Review Blog

May 27 2014

The Stone Lion by Margaret Wild

cover image

Ill. by Ritva Voutila. Little Hare, 2014. ISBN 9781921894855.
(All ages) The stone lion crouched on his pedestal guarding the entrance to the town's library. Lifelike in size and appearance, he was 'so real, so fierce and cold that small children scuttled past at the sight of him' and in stark contrast to the warm, inviting environment that the concept of a library portrays. Only Sara, homeless and alone, weeping gently and cuddling a small bundle that is her baby brother snuggled into his paws, while Ben the librarian leaned against him at lunchtime while he ate his sandwiches and read, laughing occasionally. Even though the gargoyle perched on the portico above his pedestal explains Sara's distress and Ben's delight, the stone lion has no understanding of such feelings. He just wants to come alive so he can run and prowl and leap - to just move. He imagines himself strolling along the street in front of the library and running in the park across the road.
'Sometimes, stone animals are granted a chance to become warm, breathing creatures' the gargoyle tells him, 'But it is for a very short time only, and they must desire it greatly, with a generous heart.' Even though the lion does desire it greatly with no apparent ability to feel, it seems like a dream that will be unfulfilled. Then winter comes and it hits hard. Snow falls and lies deep, and once again Sara comes to the lion's feet, sinking onto the steps and going limp. A snowflake falls on the baby's nose and he wails, waving a tiny fist, and a stab of pity pierces the lion's heart . . .
This is a picture book for all ages with many levels of complexity. Accompanied by evocative pictures created with oil pastels on grey velour paper which portray the mood and atmosphere perfectly, this story is a mixture of fantasy, fairy tale and fable. The lion at the end of the story is not the lion of the beginning, much like the key characters in The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince opening the way for in-depth and comparative studies of these texts. How can a single act of kindness make such a difference to so many? Teaching notes are available at the publisher's website.
Barbara Braxton

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