King Lion rules over a happy kingdom but he feels excluded and miserable. He knows he needs a friend but his attempts at making them terrify his subjects and make him ‘wild with sadness’. A small, brave girl takes on the challenge of taming the lion by offering him acceptance and kindness. King Lion learns how to relate to others and be a friend.
The kingdom shown in this book is a lively city where a variety of animals and humans live in harmony, which makes King Lion’s isolation all the more apparent. He lacks the understanding of how to make friends and his ill-informed attempts at relating to others only highlight his ‘dangerous claws…his deafening roar…his dripping jaws’. The cityscapes are beautifully illustrated in tones which change to reflect the mood and action. A wonderful image shows King Lion standing King Kong-like on top of a clock tower roaring angrily into a rainy night. The little girl demonstrates both courage and empathy. She plays alone and ‘understood what it was to need a friend’. There is a wonderful double-page spread showing her making plans in her bedroom: post-its dot the walls noting her attempts to understand the lion’s behaviour. As she responds to the lion’s roars, playfully showing him that she is not scared, the illustrations play cleverly with scale. The expression on the huge lion’s face when she hugs him melts from fury into touching vulnerability. The little girl reminds us to show understanding and kindness when faced with frustration and anger.
The colourful, expressive illustrations and moments of drama make this a great choice to read aloud to a reception, year 1 or 2 class. The simplicity of the narrative means beginner readers will enjoy retelling the story as they flick through the book independently. The teacher might want to dig deeper into the themes of the book and use it for PHSE/circle-time discussion to look at dealing with emotions, understanding the behaviour of others and making friends.
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