The Lion Who Wanted to Love
One of my favourite stories by one of my favourite authors; Giles Andreae!
The narrative of 'The Lion Who Wanted to Love' promotes a message of non-conformity and following one's own instincts, values and morals even if it does not fit the expectations of peers.
The central character, Leo the lion, finds himself unwilling to participate in the carnivorous behaviours expected by his pack. Told, by his mother, to either engage in hunting or leave his pack he decides to follow his heart even though it means separating from his peers. Leo, however, quickly finds that he is not alone because his instinct to help rather than hurt earns him many friends. When Leo eventually finds himself in danger, when trying to rescue a friend, he discovers that all the animals that he treated kindly are now willing to repay him with a rescue facilitated by teamwork. He also discovers (spoiler alert!) that one of those rescuers is his mother who has now come to realise the power of his kind and gentle nature.
The story is told with beautiful language including the use of rhymes. The words are so carefully chosen that the reader will be drawn to inject a rhythmic, flowing almost 'song-like' quality to them. I consistently find that this beautiful, melodious language helps to draw the child(ren) in and maintain their focus from beginning to end. (I also find myself blinking back tears in some of the final pages! I find the story so moving and the language so engaging).
The presence of anthropomorphic characters (animals behaving and speaking like humans) this book would not be officially recommended for a Montessori early childhood setting. Strictly speaking, the Montessori approach tries to avoid introducing 'fantasy' stories to children in the early childhood years (that is, under the age of six). The philosophy suggests that a child under the age of six is not readily able to distinguish between 'fantasy' and 'reality', as he/she is still in the process of absorbing impressions of the world, and so books should emphasise reality in order to avoid confusion. Older children - between the ages of six and twelve - are much more able to distinguish between 'real' and 'pretend' and can also better comprehend metaphor. That age group is, therefore, seen to be more ready for stories where animals present allegories about humanity.
That being said, I will happily admit that I do read 'The Lion Who Wanted to Love' to some of my older pre-schoolers. I find that the quality of the language, and the importance of the message, allow me to feel comfortable with the presence of anthropomorphic animals. I do scaffold this experience by prefacing and concluding the story with a discussion about the fact that animals can not really talk. I also encourage the children to discuss their thoughts about what they think the story represents. Through these discussions I have been satisfied that my pre-schoolers have been able to identify the message and moral despite the presence of talking animals!