Josiah's Reviews > Christian, the Hugging Lion

Christian, the Hugging Lion by Justin Richardson
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Sep 27, 2015

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Read in August, 2011

In my opinion, Christian, the Hugging Lion is one of the best picture books of 2010. In fact, while I may not have opted to award it the Caldecott Medal if the selection were up to me, I almost certainly would have designated it an honoree.

It's not easy to differentiate the emotion of this book from that of the famous Youtube video of the reunion between Christian the lion and his owners, Ace and John. Ace and John had lived with their affectionate pet lion cub for many months before deciding that he would be happier growing up free in Africa, and being in such close proximity to him for so long a period must have made it feel as if he were a regular part of their family. Choosing to part company so that Christian could have his liberty in Africa surely had to have left a void in Ace and John's life, an undisturbed silence in the air where before there had been such an abundance of bustling life and the glowing playfulness of youth. When they returned to Africa a year after releasing Christian in hopes that they might be able to locate their now grown pet lion and he still would recognize them, Ace and John knew that chances were Christian had been assimilated so completely into his new pride of lions that he wouldn't even recognize the two people who had been the centerpiece of his former life. They decided to try anyway, and were rewarded by a semi-miracle of powerful emotion that vividly shows the undying endurance of real love and affection. Christian, the Hugging Lion is a lovely story with lovely illustrations and not lacking for moments of humor, but what really makes the story is the emotional connection that it's sure to forge with most readers. Everyone hopes for at least that one example of unceasing, unbreakable love in their own lives, and so I think we need to hear a story like this one every so often, to keep our hope alive and well.

The drawings provided by Amy June Bates have a certain softness to them, and are very warm and sweetly done. They fit the story perfectly, with some of the book's emotional content being noticeably enhanced by Christian's close-up facial expressions as the reunion with Ace and John begins. The way that facial expressions are drawn in a picture book can mean nearly everything in how well we're able to get to know the story's cast of characters, and without Amy June Bates's heartfelt illustrations, this book would definitely be missing a vital element.

I can see how Christian, the Hugging Lion could have been a legitimate contender for either Newbery or Caldecott recognition in the year it was published. It really is that good. This is one of my favorite picture books that I've read in quite a while, and I'm sure that few readers will easily forget the experience that is this story. It is a quality book in every way, and I fully recommend it.
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