Originally published in March 2014. This is, hands down, my favorite book of the year.
By Nicola Davies, Illustrated by Annabel Wright
Published by: Candlewick (February 25, 2014)
Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK
Newly released The Lion Who Stole My Arm is an exquisite journey into the culture and community of a small African village. It’s also a taut drama of survival and a moving, authentic emotional transformation.
And yet zoologist and children’s writer Nicola Davies keeps this smart and clever tale perfectly tuned to the newly independent reader. The simple sentence structure and mostly easy language is scaled just right. When new vocabulary or science terms are introduced, they are either defined at the end of a chapter or are made clear through usage. Given the bold, photography-based cover and broad marketing, it seems the publisher is steering clear of marking this a chapter book, even while it easily fits the criteria. This is not a surprise; the book could easily be considered a middle grade crossover. I’ve even recommended this book to adults—it’s that good.
The science aspect is no small matter that adds a third dimension. The issues of animal habitat/behavior and human encroachment/survival are given fair, equal treatment. Both kids and adults will find the research and use of tracking tools intriguing and cool. The thoughtful explanation of the food chain fits naturally into the story.
I’d say boys in particular will like this book because the protagonist is a young boy, and of course there is the infamous lion. And yet girls will eat this up as well… arms and all.
Annabel Wright’s black and white watercolors add to the exotic authenticity with a quirky, old-school feel. Spare and lovely, they invite the reader to imagine what is not shown: the wide African sky above, and the thick bush just beyond the picture. Her unique perspective also adds a sense of personality, space and importance.
This book is a gift to young readers entering the world of literacy. It is human and wild, exotic and accessible, and is imbued with an emotional heft that lands with a soft touch. The Lion Who Stole My Arm is a masterwork of what contemporary chapter books can achieve. Bravo, Ms. Davies. Bravo.
What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….