Friday 30 July 2021

The Lion Who Came to Stay

The Lion Who Came to Stay written by Victoria MacKinlay, illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh (Scholastic Australia) PB HB RRP $17.99 ISBN 978 1 760669218

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

In this picture book, Francis writes a letter to his parents and asks for an elephant for Christmas. To his surprise and delight there is something special underneath the Christmas Tree but it isn’t what he expected.


The Lion who Came to Stay is based on a true story. In 1935, Victoria MacKinlay’s grandfather was given a lion cub by the Indian Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawanagar. This story is a door into another time and place, when things like this really did happen.


MacKinlay focuses upon the friendship between Francis and Singh which makes the story both wondrous and magical. It has a strong emotive pull. The parting of Francis and Singh is felt with great sadness and their forever connection is uplifting and satisfying. When Singh finally learns to roar, it is joyous. MacKinlay’s writing is endearing and an ode to another to a past era. MacKinlay instinctively knows when to layer the text and when to pare it right back.


Francis and Singh share the night sky and shooting stars so that no matter where they go they still think of each other. This shows that Francis and Singh’s friendship is forever. The dialogue is used to great effect and at just the right moments. “‘Singh!’ he called, as the lion bounded to him. ‘Singh!’ repeated Francis, his heart exploding with joy.” This story is well paced and makes you want to keep on reading.


Ronojy Ghosha’s bright illustrations are captivating. The cover is eye-catching with a cute lion peeking over a big, bright, yellow wall. The word ‘lion’ is in large red letters with an India stamp in the middle. Instantly, we know the lion comes from India. The original story is celebrated with real black and white photos shared in the book. Ghosha creates multiple layers of meaning with double-page spreads where the perspective zooms in and out. The image of Singh’s eye with Francis reflected inside waving goodbye is more powerful than any words could ever be. The endpapers are simplicity at its best. One paw in a corner invites the page turn at the start and the five black and white photos and one paw at the end say, ‘I was here, and I was loved by my dear friend’.


The Lion Who Came to Stay is for 3-8 years and is a charming read-aloud. It leaves the door open to discuss today’s changes in attitude to wild animals and the role that zoos play. It is the sort of story that can appeal to a range of ages.

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