Values: Hope, Courage and Acceptance
I'm not quite sure why I haven't yet written about this book on the blog as it is one of my FAVOURITES to use in school! It has been read to countless classes in the last couple of years and a whole-school assembly from EYFS-Year 6. All of the children I have read it to have enjoyed it and taken some important messages from it. I have also read it to some pre-schoolers (age 2 1/2) and they have also enjoyed meeting Leonard and Marianne (what great names!!).
In this book, the reader meets Leonard the Lion. He breaks all of the stereotypes of a lion - he is gentle and enjoys daydreaming on his thinking hill, writing poetry, pondering life's big questions and most of all being with his friend Marianne... a duck! One day some other lions come along and make fun of Leonard for being the way he is. They scorn him for writing poetry and not chomping Marianne for a tasty snack. Leonard is upset by this and questions what it means to be a lion. Together, Marianne and Leonard gather their courage and write a poem which Leonard reads to the bullying pack of lions. It is a beautiful poem about being yourself and how there isn't one way to be a lion. At the end, there is a poignant illustration where the reader sees the pack of lions listening to Leonard and watching butterflies in a much gentler manner.
This book is brimming with Values to discuss so I have just picked a few!
Firstly, I believe it is a great example of acceptance. Making abstract concepts like this understandable for children can be hard, but becomes easy when given context, as Ed Vere does so well. Leonard shows the pack of lions that he can be himself, and they can be themselves and everyone can be happy. With Marianne's support, he refuses to change his personality to suit others or fit the stereotype of a lion. What a powerful message made accessible!
Secondly, I would open up a conversation about courage. It isn't easy to stand up to others when you are in the minority, but Leonard shows that with gentle persuasion you can use words to powerful effect. It could form a good discussion point for older children about role models in society who have used their voice to bring about positive change for themselves and others.
You could easily talk about the Value of hope in this book. Leonard and Marianne hope for a world where everyone can be who they want to be without fear of bullies. This is a really empowering book for those who have felt different. In an ideal world, wouldn't we all live in a world where we can be ourselves? You could ask children what they hope for in the world too. I saw a gorgeous Christmas tree yesterday on Twitter (see photo below) where some Year 7 pupils had written their hopes for the future on gift tags, courtesy of Emily Weston (@primaryteachew). Obviously you could adapt this idea for other times in the year, but it is a lovely visual image for hope. You could use the book as a starting point or even a plenary.
There are so many other Values you could discuss using How To Be A Lion including friendship, compassion, love, self-belief... the list goes on! You could even ask your class to write their own version of a book entitled How To Be A... (considering stereotypes).
What I found really interesting was reading the backstory and inspiration for this book on Ed Vere's website (www.edvere.com). There, he explains that the book was written in the aftermath of Trump being elected as President of the US in 2016. It aimed to both tackle stereotypes of masculinity and to show that the loudest voices who get the most attention are not necessarily the best or right voices to listen to. He writes, "I hope I've written a book that counters that voice, and the intolerance behind it. I think it's time we celebrate the power of quieter, kinder, more thoughtful voices... We need to celebrate friendship and unity, not enmity and division."
I find the inspiration behind books really interesting. I wonder about discussing this with Year 6 or Year 7 and what they might make of it. I wonder what books or messages they might come up with given the current political climate? After all, all books are written in a specific context of time and place and will be influenced by what is happening in the world around us.
I am a huge fan of this book and all of the messages that you can take from it, as well as the lovable characters and playful language and illustrations. I will be using it for a long time and always have a copy on my Values bookshelf! You can find your own copy on the Blackwell's website or other, independent bookshops. You can also follow Ed Vere on Twitter: @ed_vere - I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Other books on this blog with the same Values can be found by clicking on the hashtags below: