Who wants to hear about the adorablest book I’ve seen in the past, um, today? You know how this story starts because you’ve heard it before. So I went to my favourite bookstore– you know the one— and asked what recent books they’d recommend for a three-year-old boy. The awesome lady there immediately pulled out this one: Lion Lessons by Jon Agee.
Confession: I have a terrible tendency to read books I’m giving to people as presents. Sometimes I leave the bookmark in the spot where I left off. Obviously, this isn’t a problem with picture books like this one, but, yeah, so I’m writing a blog post on a book I’m going to then give as a present. Mea culpa. (I wonder if this is a habit I learned from my mother, like keeping a stack of books resembling that tower in Pisa on my bedside table, and bringing an extra suitcase for books on trips. Or is it just me?)
OK, dammit, here’s the problem with my approach. I just saw, just this minute, that this is a signed copy. Have we talked about my problem with signed copies of books I love? No? Yes? Yes, I think. I am going to have to work really hard to give this book to the little cousin I adore, and who is destined to love this book. Give it up, Deb. Give it up. There will be other lovely signed books in your future.
“So,” you ask, “what is this book you’ve decided you love so much you’re going to have trouble relinquishing it into eager childish hands?”
I’m so glad you asked. Let me tell you about it. The story is simple, as so many of the best picture books out there are: A little boy wants to learn to be a lion, so he takes lessons. Ultimately, he gets his diploma. Simple, right? Except you’re probably blinking a little and saying, “Lion… diploma? Uh…” Here’s the thing: it’s a totally logical book if you only accept the initial premise that you can learn to be a lion. And, well, who doesn’t want to learn to be a lion, right? Right. Oh, you don’t want to? Well, then, you’re not a three-year-old.
If you hang out with three-year-olds at all, and my Changeling is almost three, then you learn very quickly that they can be whatever they want to be. Sometimes the Changeling is a bird, sometimes a ballerina, sometimes a cat– and sometimes a big girl! Her imagination is elastic, fluid, and I quite frankly envy her for her ability to envision how hugs and kisses fly up, up, up through the ceiling to the sky. (Yes, that’s how she sees them. She told me so and I believe her.) So as soon as I saw Lion Lessons, I knew it was perfect for any child her age with that kind of faith in the world’s plasticity: why shouldn’t you be able to learn to be a lion?
The question is this, then: is it easy to become a lion? Oh no, our little boy hero has some trouble, I’m afraid. There are Seven Steps to becoming a lion, and he has terrible issues with the first six steps. He can’t roar loud enough, he asks for spaghetti, and when he prowls around his tail always peeks out. Oof, what trials and tribulations our poor little lion-in-training endures! (God, he’s cute.) When he tries out his pouncing, the old lady he tries to frighten responds: “What a cute little kitty-cat! Are you lost?”
But then we come to Step Seven: Looking Out for Your Friends. Our young lion spots a kitten and declares it his friend. Then he sees the big, strong dog chasing after the white fluffy little kitten and instantly knows what to do: he RROWL!s a tremendous roar, bares his claws, gnashes his teeth, sprints across the field, AND POUNCES! The next thing you know, the poor little dog is running away, terrified, the kitten’s life is saved, and our young protagonist is a certified lion…
And renowned protector of cats.
It’s a remarkably sweet story, and I’m sure you can already spot a few reasons for that. First of all, of course, is the story of the imagination I already outlined. It gives that stamp of approval to flights of fancy which I adore. But the second thing I love is that it’s not just imagination, but the power, genuine power, behind imagination which is legitimized here. Our young lion stumbles a bit while trying to learn the skills, but as soon as he sees a genuine reason to truly become a lion, wholly and completely, his imagination kicks into overdrive and becomes, essentially, reality. Once he perceives a need to be a lion, in other words, well, the lion in him comes out.
If you’ve read Alan Moore’s Promethea, you may have seen something like this with the manifestation of Promethea in the material world. But if you’re not a dork like me, you probably haven’t read Promethea, and in that case you’d better either ignore me or get yourself to your local comic book store and find a copy. Tell them that a children’s book review blog called The Children’s Bookroom sent you and they’ll be wholly confused, and I’ll be deliciously entertained.
Excuse my little digression. The point here is that Jon Agee accomplishes some wonderful things with the imagination in this book: a) he tells children it’s not only OK to imagine yourself to be someone or something else, but that it’s actually a wonderful thing to do; b) he tells kids that sometimes we face stumbling blocks in acquiring that skill, and that’s OK, you don’t have to be perfect at everything all at once; c) he tells us all that sometimes you just need a little motivation, the right button to be pressed, and then our instinctive imagination will take over and actually change reality.
Now I need your help. Imagine something with me: Close your eyes and visualize me taking this signed copy of a book which tells me and my child something I really want us both to hear… visualize me wrapping it in pretty paper and writing a card for it. Visualize me handing it over to the recipient. Visualize me giving this up, and then going back to the store for another copy. OK? Got that? Help me out here. I’m going to need your support.
(P.S. Thanks, everyone. I think I can do it.)
One thought on “Lion Lessons”
[…] You see, I had a lunch date with my cousin in Brookline today, and, naturally, took the opportunity to poke my head into The Children’s Book Shop to see what was new for the spring. The lovely staff there responded beautifully when I showed up and said, “Hi, I was just in the area and wondered what was new here.” Boy, did they ever deliver. People, this is a great season of new books. And one of my favourite new books was Life on Mars by Jon Agee. We’ve met him before for Lion Lessons. […]