|Fierce: The Lion by Evaline Ness.|
Holiday House, 1980.
Evaline Ness won the Caldecott Medal in 1967, and was a runner-up for each of the three previous years. She illustrated more than thirty picture books, writing several of those herself. She kept the last name of her second husband, the famous Eliot Ness. Yet I admit, I was unfamiliar with her until recently. Her art is of another era, and of her many books, only the Caldecott-winning Sam, Bangs & Moonshine appears to be currently in print. I've been checking her books out from the library as I can. This book, Fierce: The Lion, is a later entry, and so far, it's my favorite.
It's the sweetly unbelievable story of a circus girl named Isobel and her pet lion. She raises Fierce from a cub, and for a while, they are inseparable. Fierce understands Isobel, but Isobel understands Fierce, too, even his lion-roars.
Alas, Fierce grows to his full size and after falling on little Isobel during a stunt, he must spend his free time in a cage. He is let out to perform all the tricks Isobel has taught him, and becomes the most famous act in the circus, but the other animals and performers are jealous. They hate Fierce.
One day, Fierce refuses to perform. He know the other acts hate him. He starts to cry, which angers his trainer.
Fierce tells Isobel he hates his job. He tells her that the only thing he would love to do is "give little tots rides on my back, but stupid llamas and adorable ponies are given first choice, always." Isobel sets out to see what she can do. Fierce doesn't see her for a few days, and spends his time complaining in his cage. Isobel and her parents ask the Owner of the Circus where Fierce might find such a job. The Owner asks the Head of the Zoo. Isobel steps in. "This lion we're discussing happens to be a friend of mine... All he wants is love, and little kids are the ones who can give him what he wants. I know."
So, Fierce moves to the zoo, where he gives rides to long lines of children. And there, he lives happily ever after.
Because I know I'd happily let my children ride on a lion's back. Yup.
But it's a cute story. Beautiful pictures, yes?
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