Written and Illustrated by Helen Stephens
Henry Holt and Company, 2012
One hot day, a lion strolled into town to buy a hat.
When the townspeople see the lion, they are afraid. They come after him and he runs away, finding a place to hide in a backyard playhouse. The house’s owner, a girl called Iris, is not scared of lions, so she tells him he’s too big for the play house and invites him in. They stay very quiet so her parents won’t find out he’s there and she combs out his mane and takes care of his injured paw. They struggle finding a safe place for him to hide in the house and one day, when he’s behind the sofa, her father mentions the lion that was loose in town. When Iris suggests he might be kind, her mother says all lions are mean. Iris comforts the worried lion and reads him a story. Her mother walks in and screams, causing him to run out of the house and find a hiding place in the city, pretending to be a stone lion. He stays perfectly still until he witnesses a robbery and then he leaps into action, foiling the robbers and saving the day. Everyone gathers to thank him and when they ask what he wants as a reward, he asks for a hat, which is why he came there in the first place.
Author/illustrator Helen Stephens presents two very likeable characters in this story and it’s very easy to draw parallels between the lion in this story and anyone who is feared or outcast simple due to who they are and what people believe about them. Iris shows readers that the important first step is simply not being afraid and taking the time to get to know the unknown before making up your mind. The illustrations are reminiscent of the picture books of my childhood and have a lovely and gentle vintage quality to them, especially in the use of color and movement. There’s a lot to be said for the ending, too, in which the lion’s request is simply to get the hat that he came for in the beginning, showing that the experience, while harrowing for him, hadn’t significantly altered him in any negative ways or made him too full of himself when everyone jumped on the pro-lion bandwagon. There’s a lot to like about this book.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there’s always more to someone than what you imagine from your first impression.