Sunday, February 3, 2019

Review - Sweet Penny and the Lion

Sweet Penny and the Lion
by Richard Fairgray & Alexander Burke
Date: 2018
Publisher: Sky Pony
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

There once was a girl called Sweet Penny who did exactly as she was told.
Her sister and brother disappointed her mother, but she never broke the mold.
Penny was so nice and quiet that teachers forgot she was there. Being so good, doing just what you should, that just won't get you anywhere.

Sweet Penny is so good, she would never do anything to disappoint her parents or disrupt class or upset her friends. In fact, she's so sweet, that even when bullies steal her lunch, she just quietly smiles and lets them.

And then, one day on the playground Penny's class is playing a game when a lion hops over the fence. Penny's classmates scream and scatter, but Penny was told to stay right where she was. And so she does.

And the lion eats her.

But something changes when she's in his very dark belly. She punches and kicks her way out, and when she emerges, not-so-sweet Penny will never be taken advantage of again.

Told in verse, Richard Fairgray and Alex Burke's wickedly funny picture book is a celebration of strong girls and a call to, "Be bold, be loud, shout out, and speak up," because "sometimes it's hard to be brave."

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Here's what I learned from this one: Don't follow the rules. If you do, you'll get eaten by a lion or a bear on the school playground.

Do I really need to say much more about why I didn't like this? Yes? Well, okay...

There's the meter, for one thing. The rhymes are extremely clunky, and my e-book copy didn't have proper line breaks, so it was incredibly difficult to know when to pause... which meant that it was nearly impossible to read out loud without tripping up repeatedly.

There's the subtle fat-shaming, ableism, and homophobia right at the beginning, where it's stated that Penny's sister and brother disappointed their mother... for no apparent reason (at least, not given the way the text is written). Penny is drawn as cute and sweet, while her brother is a morbidly obese hunchback while her sister looks like a butch nose-picker:

Some kids might think that those things are the reason for the disappointment, whether that was intent of the author or not.

Penny's following the rules for the most part just seems like common sense. She waits politely in the lunch line instead of pushing and shoving. She draws flowers in art class (I don't know why this is considered "following the rules", but it is). But when a lion jumps over the schoolyard fence and threatens Penny, she just stands there because the teacher told her to. This happens right after the book states:

Being so good,
doing JUST what you should,
that won't get you anywhere.

Now, if a lion jumps into the schoolyard and threatens to eat you, you should run away. So that's a bit of a contradictory message right there. (Not to mention that this whole thing makes Penny look like a complete idiot. I also question whether she has a fight-or-flight mechanism, since she doesn't seem perturbed by this leonine threat.)

The book ends with this lovely advice:

So let this be a lesson, children, being good is nice and fine,
but don't be afraid to break rules or test limits from time to time.

I'm sure that'll be appreciated by parents. (Penny's act of rebellion extends to drawing pictures of dragons instead of flowers and using the lion to bully her way to the front of the lunch line. So... I don't even know what kids are supposed to take from this.)

Premise: 1/5
Meter: 2/5
Writing: 1/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.43 out of 5

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