How to Be a Lion

By Ed Vere. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2018. 32 pages. $17.99/hardcover; $9.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 3 and up.

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Now that groupthink is as alive as ever in our fragile world, it is never too early or too late to trumpet the virtues of thinking from one’s individual center. That is why this reviewer hesitates to put any age limit on Ed Vere’s wonderful combination of words and illustrations in How to Be a Lion. Just as the simple truths in Aesop’s fables display an ageless wisdom, so too does Vere’s book lay bare the ageless wisdom of Leonard, a lion who dares to be himself.

Coming from the African veldt where all kinds of beings stream by in endless migration, Leonard is a cosmopolitan soul, a sophisticate who not only stalks and eats what he sees as good, but stalks to commune with the good he doesn’t eat. For example, there is a duck called Marianne, a small mouthful and a poet, who doesn’t perish but benefits from becoming Leonard’s friend and collaborator, helping him unstick the words of the poem he is currently writing.

How can any lion—might the worldly reader say—any lion who is all lion, resist the prejudice of his nature to eat first and consider later? Moreover, how can any self-respecting lion stand up against a pride of angry lions who dress Leonard down for debasing the very image of a fierce lion? Instead of tackling the mystery of individuality, as well as the double mystery of character, with words alone, Vere puts down his pen—as deft and swell as it is—to take up his brush and place us skeptical readers on Leonard’s “thinking hill.” A great burst of orange sunlight illuminates the vast veldt where every kind of beast roams in an eternal quest to live; propagate; and, as we human beings are more and more learning, enjoy the widest take on life that its lights can grant.

Sharing, loyalty, empathy, and courage—all combined with unerring line and color—hold out the possibility to every species to become the lion that Leonard is, or the duck that Marianne becomes. Even we in our own human way, with the lookouts we find and climb to every day, can grow greater.

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