Review Blog

Nov 10 2017

Once upon a small rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay

cover image

Ill. by Leila Rudge. Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781925126709
(Age: 3-8) Highly recommended. Themes: Determination, Adventure. This tale is whimsical and gentle with soft, pencil illustrations in muted colours that suit the style of the book perfectly. It is about a rhinoceros named Lila who isn't content with just doing rhinoceros things. She sees the boats that sail past on the river, bringing with them exotic sights, sounds and smells and she dreams of seeing the world beyond the mud and grass and trees that she calls home. But the mud and grass and trees are everything a rhinoceros could need says another rhinoceros. Lila agrees. It is. But still she dreams. Finally, one day, she builds a boat.
Lila, with her human-like upright stance, contented smile and rosy cheeks is such a likeable character. She is determined and adventurous and absolutely refuses to be discouraged from her mission, regardless of her lack of knowledge or experience. "You can't row. Or steer. Or read a map" one rhino says. "I know" says Lila. "You'll get lost" says another. "Perhaps" she says, as she sails off around the bend wearing the bright orange life jacket she found in the mud.
When reading this aloud it feels like you have to say the mouth-twisting word rhinoceros or the even more gymnastic word rhinoceroses one too many times, but this is minor critique for what is a really rather perfect picture book. The illustrations of Lila's travels are stunning, bringing to life little worlds that Lila marvels in: the depths of the ocean, the rainforest and the city. The page containing people from different cultures and walks of life is a great discussion point. When Lila returns home most of the rhinoceroses are content to hear her stories and then continue with their normal lives. But in one rhinoceros, even smaller than herself, she finds a similar dreamer.
This tale emphasises that you don't have to be big (or male) to step outside of your comfort zone and to be an explorer and a pioneer. Lila dreams and works hard to bring her dreams to fruition. She has no help and no encouragement, but it doesn't deter her.
This isn't a unique story line for a picture book but it is a particularly good one. Inspirational for young and old, male and female.
Nicole Nelson

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