Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

Lyle, Lyle Crocodile picture book cover
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary of Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, the second and probably the most well known of the Lyle books by author and illustrator Bernard Waber, was first published in 1965. Lyle the crocodile lives happily with the human Primms family in New York City. Everyone in the neighborhood loves Lyle except for Mr. Grumps whose cat, Loretta, is afraid of Lyle. Children ages 4 to 8 will especially enjoy this unlikely story about a friendly crocodile and a distrustful cat, which has become a classic.

The Story

Yes, a crocodile for a pet may be unusual, but Lyle is not frightening or scary; he is actually friendly and nice. Why he is like a member of the Primms family, helping Joshua with his schoolwork, preparing food in the kitchen, and even shopping and ice skating with Mrs. Primms. He is beloved by everyone in the neighborhood too...skipping rope with the children, playing tag with Joshua and his friends and feeding the birds in the park.

But unfortunately, there is someone who is terribly distrustful and frightened of Lyle. It's Loretta, the cat. This makes Mr. Grumps, the Primms' neighbor and owner of Loretta, furious and he is determined that something must be done about that crocodile. After Loretta runs up a tree and an unfortunate incident in a department store, Mr. Grumps has Lyle committed to the zoo.

Lyle is restless and unhappy, but he makes the best of the situation by amusing the visitors with his tricks and antics.

One night an old friend comes to Lyle’s rescue. Lyle’s subsequent heroism wins over Mr. Grump.

The setting is New York City. The cartoon-like illustrations reveal popular sites in the city, beginning with the title page on which Lyle is shown feeding the ducks in Central Park. His home on East 88th Street resembles a combination of brownstone houses found on this street.

Rockefeller Center is depicted in the illustration where Lyle ice skates with Mrs. Primms. The zoo, construction site, and the inside of the department store all reflect those found in New York City.

The Illustrations

The pen and ink illustrations have little color nor are they colored as they would be in real life. Green is found on every page. The book even opens up to green endpapers, emphasizing the green of the main character. The element of variety is added with every other page containing a few additional colors beside the popular green. Lyle is given a human-like quality with his upright orientation and the cover shows a happy Lyle in front of his house.

Author and Illustrator Bernard Waber

Bernard Waber was born in Philadelphia in 1921 and died in 2013. Bernard Waber's parents were immigrants; his father was from Austria and his mother was born in Russia. When he was only eight years old, Waber helped out at a movie theater after school. Since he only saw the last 10 minutes of the day's film, he enjoyed inventing the beginning and the middle of each movie.

When he started college at the University of Pennsylvania, Waber planned to major in finance. However, his schooling was interrupted by World War II.

By the time Bernard Waber got out of the military, his plans had changed.

Following his military service, he decided to concentrate on art and earned a diploma from the Philadelphia College of Art. Bernard Waber did not set out to create picture books for children but began his career as a designer and illustrator for magazines in New York City. Reading books to his own three children was one of the inspirations that caused him to send his own stories for children to publishers.

His first illustrated children’s book, Lorenzo, a story about a curious fish, was published in 1961 and his first book about Lyle was published in 1962. Many of Waber’s characters revolve around anthropomorphic animals, but he also writes about such childhood concerns as friendship, moving, and courage.

However, it was the Lyle character though that kept coming back to him.

From the time he was in art school, Waber found drawing crocodiles amusing and especially one living with a family in exciting New York City. Waber dedicated his first Lyle book to his daughter, Paulis, who, as an adult, illustrated Waber’s ninth Lyle book, Lyle Walks the Dogs: A Counting Book (2010).

(Sources: Butterworth, Susan. Bernard Waber, Guide to Literary Masters & Their Works; January 2007.   Johnson, Nancy J and Cyndi Giorgis. Talking with Bernard Waber, Book Links, July 2006, V15, Issue 6.   Waber, Bernard and Paulis Waber. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile: Storybook Treasury, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2012.   L.A. Times Obituary, 5/22/13, Bernard Waber: A Biographical Essay, New York Times Obituary, 5/22/13)

My Recommendation

Lyle Lyle, Crocodile is a delightful and engaging book with a charming, lovable character that readers will not soon forget. It’s amusing that no one finds it odd that Lyle can walk on his hind legs, jump rope, and ice skate. At 48 pages, this is longer than most picture books but the full page illustrations are engaging and move the story along.

The names and language will challenge and stretch the imagination while the mixture of short and long sentences keep the text from being overwhelming. Adults will have an opportunity to discuss with older children tolerance, community, reconciliation, and judgement. Children 4 to 8 years of age and adults will wait with anticipation for the resolution of the troubles, but It is irresistible Lyle that they will want to read about again and again. (Houghton Mifflin, 1965, 1987-Paperback. ISBN: 9780395137208)

Anniversary Editions Recommended by Children's Books Expert Elizabeth Kennedy

In 2012, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published a special 50th anniversary collection of four Lyle stories. For more about it, see . Another recent 50th anniversary collection that I recommend is . There are also excellent anniversary editions of by Ezra Jack Keats and by Virginia Lee Burton.