Intensely tender and bold, The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Sarah Ardizzone is the tale of a blossoming friendship between a lion and the injured bird he discovers in his garden one autumn day. It’s a tale across the divide, about setting free that which you hold most dear, about being content and grateful, about kindness, sorrow, loneliness and love.
The injured bird is one of a flock migrating to warmer climes. Left behind because of a damaged wing, the bird is nursed back to health by Lion and they become firm friends as autumn turns to winter. One spring day brings the bird’s flying family back his way and the lion has to accept his friend’s need to return to the clouds, leaving the lion to grieve. Time, however, never stands still and as summer gives way to autumn, Lion looks to the sky. Will his friend return? Or was that glorious winter of friendship all that will ever be?
Dubuc’s storytelling here has an astonishingly powerful emotional impact on me. It is delicately and finely honed, with words so sparse many pages are without any at all, and with visual pacing that holds the reader utterly captivated, and at times almost breathless. The quietness of the text creates space and time to really experience the passing of the seasons and the heartache Lion feels at Bird’s absence. Small details depicting the kindness and thoughtfulness in the two animals’ friendship will make you smile. The daring choice to devote a whole double page spread to no illustration at all, leaving two pages white and empty indicating the vast depth of winter and the slow passing of time (a spread not included – I understand – in the U.S. edition of this book which came out in 2014) made me gasp at its cleverness and subtle power.
At times reminiscent of Sendak (I found myself thinking of Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear books which he illustrated), and with echoes of Marla Frazee’s fabulous and heart-wrenching The Farmer and The Clown, The Lion and the Bird is an elegant, understated masterpiece about loyalty, gentleness and generosity. A book filled with equal measures of joy and sorrow, for young and old alike, a story to foster empathy and encourage hope.
We brought Lion and Bird to life on our shelves by sculpting them out of tin foil. Tin foil is light weight and very malleable, making it super easy for small hands to work with, and mould into shapes (environmentally it’s not the greenest crafting material so consider rinsing and re-using foil you’ve used to cover food when cooking) and this is exactly what we did, creating bird bodies and a lion head.
Once the girls were happy with their basic shapes they covered them with pieces of tissue paper (white for the birds, yellow for the lion) and watered down PVA glue (a bit like papier machier). They covered their shapes entirely and once dry, their sculptures were ready to have details added. Fur and feathers were added using felt tips (sharpies), and thin wire was bent into leg shapes.
One of the nice things about tin foil sculptures is that they are so light you could easily mount them on the wall – perhaps something to consider if you create them in school and want to present them as a display.
Whilst making our lion and birds we listened to:
Other activities which might work well alongside reading The Lion and the Bird include:
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Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.