Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Lion and Lamb

June 17, 2024

K.C. Ireton

Children’s Literature for Young Cultivators is a column devoted to good books for children. We’ll look at picture books, easy readers, children’s novels, and just plain good books for children of all ages, focusing primarily on stories and poetry. My goal is to provide good books for you to read with (or give to) the children you love, books that will shape their hearts, minds, and imaginations in Godward ways.

I lie against my mother on the brown plaid sofa in the living room of our mobile home, a sea of ochre-orange carpet rolling out from under us in every direction. In her small strong hands, she holds a pea-green book, turning the pages as she reads aloud.

We are almost to the end of the story, but I interrupt. “Read it again, Mama! Read it again.”

She reads it again. “Lambert was terrified!”

My eyes go as wide as Lambert’s in the goofy drawing in the book. His mouth yaws in a grimace of terror, and his brown mane stands straight out in every direction.

But then something deep inside that scared and sheepish lion snaps. Just as the wolf attacks the sheepfold where Lambert has lived since he was a cub, Lambert leaps to his feet, roars the loudest roar he’s ever roared, and runs at the wolf, butting him off the nearest cliff.

I love this story.

In later years, my mother will recall how she’d sometimes hide the book she got so sick of reading it. Not me. I wanted it over and over and over again, especially that line, Lambert was terrified!

At least, that’s what my parents tell me. Truth is, I don’t actually remember them reading this story to me. I remember photos of them reading it to me. I remember reading the book to myself when I was older and able to read. But I don’t remember the endless readings themselves, readings that must have sunk this story deep into my psyche.

What does that do to a child, all those readings of the same story again and again? What did it do to me?

How much of my sense of myself as an outsider came from identifying with Lambert, the lion who was raised as a lamb; who was as strange and awkward a sheep as ever lived; who, whenever he played with the other lambs, quickly found himself turned head over tail and laughed at because of his clumsiness?

Or did Lambert not create but rather mirror a reality that I could not yet put into words? Did I identify with him because, at two, I had already begun to sense that my imaginative tendencies made me different from my intensely practical parents? That I both belonged and didn’t belong?

Or perhaps my love of scared little Lambert sprang from my timid, easily frightened temperament, and Lambert gave voice to the fear I already harbored in my young heart.

Or in reading his story again and again, did I begin to realize that the world is scary and wolves might come in the night and even home isn’t always safe and what do I do with that? Read it again, Mama! Read it right through to the end when the wolf goes flying off the cliff.

Perhaps that was why I loved it: perhaps Lambert’s story gave me hope that somewhere deep inside my small, scared self was a lion that would emerge in time of need with a leap and a roar of courage.

I can’t know how much Lambert created the me I became and how much he simply reflected the me I was becoming. And in the end, I’m not sure it matters much whether the lion came first, or the lamb.

What matters is that when I am small and I lean into my mother’s safe side on the brown plaid sofa and I say, “Read it again, Mama!”—she does.

Here are four more children’s books that model courage: 

“Mirette on the High Wire” by Emily Arnold McCully

When Mirette sees Bellini walking across the air in the courtyard of the boarding house where she lives, she is enchanted. On closer inspection, it is not air, but a wire, and Mirette asks Bellini to teach her to be a wire-walker, too. Though she falls many times, she courageously gets back up and tries again, determined to master the wire—and finally, she does. But her joy in her accomplishment is shadowed when she learns that her teacher is afraid. With courage and determination, Mirette helps Bellini face his fears. 

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom” by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. Kadir Nelson

This is a beautiful book, a feast for the eyes and ears as well as the heart. Weatherford’s lyrical prose sings on each page, and Nelson’s lush and gorgeous illustrations bring Harriet to vivid life. This is a story of courage, yes, but it is also a story of faith: through Harriet’s conversations with God—and they are conversations, for God speaks to her as much as she speaks to Him—we see how courage is rooted in faith, and the deeper the faith, the stronger the courage. 

“Painted Words/Spoken Memories” by Aliki

This is two books in one. The first book tells of immigrant Marianthe and her experiences in an American school, where she cannot understand what the teacher or the other children are saying. Her primary communication is through her drawings, the “painted words” through which she tells her story. The second book is the story Marianthe tells to her classmates, of her life before she came to America. Poignant and joyful, both stories quietly show what courage looks like in everyday life.

“Philomena” by Kate Seredy

This is a short, heavily illustrated novel full of adventure and humor. Before Philomena’s babushka dies, she charges Philomena to go to Prague to find her missing aunt. Philomena goes to Prague, but it is a big city, nothing like the tiny village she grew up in, and finding her aunt is harder than she thought it would be. But Philomena is plucky and resourceful, and with some supernatural help from her grandmother, she navigates several sticky situations and lands on her feet. Whether she finds her aunt, well, I’ll let you read this delightful tale and find out for yourself.

The featured image, “Twins,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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