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Growing Reader

How to Be a Lion Is a Lovely Lesson in Being True to Yourself

by Jennifer Garry

“Momma, the kids on the bus said long hair is just for girls,” my daughter says, turning the idea over in her head. I wait and watch her eyes as she works through something. “But Jake has long hair and he’s a boy.”

“What do you think?” I ask her.

“I think that boys can have long hair if they want to, just like girls can have short hair if they want to.”

I tell her I agree with her, silently grateful that years of repeating similar refrains have rubbed off and become ingrained.

I firmly believe that as long as someone isn’t doing something that hurts themselves or others, they should be able to do what makes them happy — and the rest of us should just fall back and let them do their thing. But it can be tough raising our kids to be openminded and accepting when the outside world is constantly trying to put people into boxes: Pink is for girls, not for boys. Boys don’t do ballet. Girls can’t play football. Boys like building and girls like dolls. It’s exhausting, not to mention confusing.

How to Be a Lion by Ed Vere is the perfect elixir to counter inside-the-box thinking. Leonard is a lion and a big old sweetie. Like that classic, lovable bull Ferdinand, he doesn’t fit with stereotypes and he enjoys being present: taking long walks, feeling the warmth of the sun, and hanging out on his thinking hill. He daydreams and writes poems and loves spending time with his best friend Marianne, a duck. Leonard is multifaceted and well-rounded and not at all one-dimensional. And sometimes, that scares people.

A pack of bullies confront Leonard one day, roaring and growling and telling him he has to be fierce. They even go so far as to tell him that there’s only one way to be a lion. As you can imagine, it makes Leonard question himself. Just like kids who are confronted by bullies, Leonard wonders if he has to change who he is so that he can belong. Is he doing this whole being a lion thing wrong?


Leonard’s friendship with Marianne gives him strength and courage. With her help, he stands up to the bullies in his own way (quietly and through a poem) and challenges them to change their way of thinking. He has no problem with them being who they are (big and loud and fierce), he just asks that they allow him to be who he is (which happens to be none of those things).

The very last page asks readers whether or not they think there is just one way to be a lion. My daughter, who had been quiet throughout our read-aloud, quickly and emphatically answered “No!”

With Leonard as a role model, I have a feeling your kids will too.

Sweet and at times funny, this book touches on so many important topics: being true to yourself, bullying, and even the idea of masculinity. It forces kids to challenge the way they think about things and consider the idea that there are many ways to be a human too.