It’s not every day that a children’s book brings the mighty, much-missed Leonard Cohen to mind, but that’s what happened when my daughter and I sat down to read Ed Vere’s latest.
Not only is its protagonist a poetry-writing lion named Leonard, he just happens to be best friends with a duck called Marianne (as in ‘So Long Marianne’, the song he dedicated to his sometime lover, Marianne Ihlen – the same lover he later wrote this most moving, menschy of messages for).
It all brings Leonard in for some stick with the other lions. As they tell him, “We heard you’re gentle. We heard you make up poems. But not chomping a duck? You’ve gone too far!”
Is there really only one way to be a lion?
In the end, Leonard finds the perfect way to stand up for himself and his more sensitive sensibilities: with a poem.
There’s lots to love about this simple tale, with its leonine palette of yellows and oranges. There’s Leonard’s thinking hill, the meandering conversations that he and Marianne share as they watch shooting stars, and Vere’s subtle reflections on peer pressure and masculinity.
There’s also his description of the poetry-writing biz. Words, he suggests, are a wondrous puzzle that can be put together ‘like this, like that’, until you’ve ‘built’ a poem and made sense of your thoughts. It makes verse accessible and appealing to even the littlest listener.
As an aside, Vere’s more literal message is also to be cheered – sotto voce if possible. So much of being a small person seems to involve shrieking and shouting. All the toddler entertainers I’ve come across warm up their audience by getting them to yell, while the kids’ sections of libraries are anything but peaceful – there’s no suggestion made that the whole world might not be one giant adventure playground. As this book observes, creativity and self-expression actually require time, space and quiet.
How to be a Lion by Ed Vere is published by Puffin at £6.99. Suggested age range: 3-5.