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The Taming of Lola: A Shrew Story: Ellen Weiss

Book: The Taming of Lola: A Shew Story
Author: Ellen Weiss
Illustrator: Jerry Smath
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

Lola The Taming of Lola: A Shew Story is a picture book in five acts, written by Ellen Weiss and illustrated by Jerry Smath. It's about a young shrew who is used to getting her way. She throws such dramatic tantrums that her parents have simply given in, and let her do whatever she wants. One day, however, Lola meets her match in her equally stubborn and spoiled cousin Lester. After a series of over-the-top, explosive arguments, Lola and Lester concede that there might, possibly, be a better way to interact.

Normally, anything that remotely suggests a "message" (like, say, that there are more important things than getting your own way) is enough to turn me off from a picture book. But The Taming of Lola worked for me. I think it's because the "message" is thoroughly insulated by a combination of humorous, slightly sarcastic text and busy, entertaining illustrations. And because Lola has well-meaning, but decidedly imperfect, parents. What she learns, she learns on her own.

The "story in five acts" is framed by a bossy, argumentative grandmother telling the story to her granddaughter. The grandmother and granddaughter crop up in little insets throughout the story, as we see the grandmother editorializing, and keeping the story honest. For example, she notes: "Screaming is relaxing. You should try it sometime." It probably won't come as a surprise to young readers when "Granny" is revealed at the end to be "Granny Lola". These insets never failed to make me smile, as I was reading the book.

I also like that Ellen Weiss isn't afraid to sprinkle the text with advanced vocabulary words. Here's an early passage:

"Although she was very, very tiny, Lola had a big temper. Shrews are not known for being nice, but Lola really took the cake.

She was so stubborn and bad-tempered that all her brothers and sisters stayed away from her as often as possible.

If Lola was given mayflies for breakfast when she wanted slugs, she had conniptions.

If she was asked to wear her red socks when she wanted to wear her blue ones, she threw herself on the floor and had a tantrum.

She was famous all over the West Meadow for her temper."

"Conniptions". What a great word! Weiss also throws in a few puns here and there, to please young readers ("Hambuger" or "Fleanut Butter and Jelly" anyone?). Lester shows up in a "Chicago Grubs" t-shirt (ok, that one pleased me - young readers might not notice).

The detail of Jerry Smath's watercolor illustrations (with pen-and-ink accents) is breathtaking, and completely in keeping with the story. Shrews, we learn, have very large families. And thus many of the illustrations are filled with tiny vignettes of different shrews, and the insects with which they surround themselves, engaging in their day-to-day activities. We often see insects (and family members) watching Lola with disapproval. This disapproval is expressed, even in tiny sketches, through eyes and posture. And there's a delightful variety of insects shown, too.

Because of the combination of large amounts of text and highly detailed illustrations, I would recommend saving this book to read to slightly older children, in the four to eight range. But it's worth saving. The Taming of Lola: A Shrew Story is just a fun read. Recommended!

Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 1, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).