Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Christian, the Hugging Lion

Week of March 25, 2012—New Books on My Shelf
Tuesday, March 27, 2012—Christian, the Hugging Lion

Maybe you’ve seen the Youtube video about two Englishmen who purchased a lion cub from Harrods Department Store in 1969. If not, you need to view the video before reading further. There are many versions of the video, but one of the earliest (complete with Whitney Houston soundtrack) can be found at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=md2CW4qp9e8.

Christian, the Hugging Lion is the retelling of the true events of that lion adopted back in 1969. The book was written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell who are the co-authors of another gorgeous, non-fiction book, And Tango Makes Three. (Note: Henry Cole, whom I mentioned in yesterday’s post, was the illustrator of Tango.) Christian, the Hugging Lion was illustrated by Amy June Bates and the book was published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (© 2010).

When Ace and John bought the lion cub at Harrods, they knew they had created a special family. They soon renamed the cub, Christian. Christian was a playful cub and he was involved in every aspect of Ace and John’s life together. Christian grew and grew and grew. As a matter of fact, he grew so much that Ace and John knew Christian needed to be set free. The three set off on a trip to Africa where Christian would eventually be turned lose, learn to survive, and build his own pride. When Ace and John returned a year later, questions lingered, “Would Christian remember them? Would they even see him? If they did, how would he react?” If you watched the video, you already know how the story ends.

I don’t consider myself a non-fiction writer, but the way Richardson and Parnell write this story, I am inspired to think perhaps I could tackle non-fiction sometime. This is not a dry book of facts and dates, it’s a lovely, sweet story. The writing has a warm, friendly, comfortable tone. The book is paced in a way that keeps the story moving smoothly forward and the reader does not become bogged down with details. Time is compressed (especially the year in London when Christian grows to a nearly-full-sized lion and his year of freedom in Africa before Ace and John return for a visit).

There is a skillful connection drawn between the life the men and lion lived together and their lives apart. We see Christian assimilating to his new home, and we see Ace and John carrying on with life, but noticeably missing Christian. This will surely stir the hearts of most readers and listeners.

Amy June Bates’ watercolor illustrations are soft and set the perfect tone. The two double-page spreads showing the reunion of Christian, Ace, and John tells more than words ever could.

Christian, the Hugging Lion. Buy it. Read it. Learn from it.

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