Skip to main content

The class book review: How to be a Lion

A cuddly lion discovers the value of being himself

Magazine article image

How to be a Lion

Ed Vere

32pp, £6.99, paperback

ISBN: 9780141376363

A thoughtful atmosphere descended on my Year 2 class as soon as I started to read How to be a Lion. Boldly executed illustrations brought the characters to life and made our classroom become part of the wilderness. Is there a class of seven-year-olds that wouldn’t be transfixed as they spot three menacing lions hiding in the dusky grasses?

Then Leonard appears. He’s gentle and kind, surrounded by butterflies, and has a cute and cuddly quality that makes you instantly want to get to know him better.

The book is chipping away at the reader’s fixed ideas from the very beginning. “Some say there is only one way to be a lion,” it tells us, and the “some say” is reiterated throughout the story. Ed Vere gently guides readers through the idea that what “some say” isn’t always true. He does this with Leonard’s character and then by creating the beautiful friendship between Leonard and Marianne the duck.

By the time Leonard and Marianne were writing poetry together, I knew that I was going to be using this text for years to come.

“Together, they played with Leonard’s poem until the words came unstuck.” The language throughout is rich and satisfying; suitable for a younger audience but with plenty of exposure for them to a more challenging and poetic vocabulary.

Leonard’s crisis comes when a pack of lions suggest he should be fierce. As he wrestles with whether he should change himself, he is helped by Marianne to write a poem that explains to the lions that it’s not bad to be different. This started a discussion among the children about “being yourself” and what that meant. A particularly well-placed illustration of one of the lion pack awakening to the butterflies above him helped some children to understand Leonard’s message. This story was a brilliant way to start to talk to the children about identity and the influence of others on our behaviour.

How to be a Lion fits perfectly with Ed Vere’s other titles, particularly Grumpy Frog, where another main character comes to a realisation that teaches the reader about being yourself.

Catherine Lang is a teacher at Wellsprings Primary School, Taunton. She is a blogger at and tweets @ClassBookCorner

Pupil reviews ‘It might make children think: do we have to all do the same things?’

‘My friend would enjoy the characters’

This book is all about a lion called Leonard. Leonard is a very gentle lion, but the other lions think that he should be fierce. Leonard has a best friend called Marianne who is a turquoise duck who helps Leonard with his poems. I would recommend this book to my friend because I think she would enjoy the characters.

Louise, aged 7

‘Good for Year 1 and 2 children’

Leonard the lion has a very special hill, which is a thinking hill. The other lions think that lions should be fierce but at the end they find out that you don’t have to be fierce. I think this book is good for Year 1 and 2 children because it might make them think ‘do we have to all do the same things?’

Cayden, aged 7

‘At first I thought it was a sad book’

At the beginning I thought it was a sad book because one lion was on his own. Then he makes friends with a duck and they find things that they like to do together.

Lola, aged 7

‘It’s all about encouraging people to be who they are’

I loved this story. It is all about encouraging people to be who they are, so they don’t have to listen to others all the time, because sometimes they could be doing the wrong thing.

Tia, aged 7


This book inspired me. Leonard isn’t fierce and never will be.

Reggie, aged 7

‘The fierce lions think there is only one way to be a lion’

This book is about a lion that is being nice to a duck. The fierce lions think there is only one way to be a lion by being fierce, but Leonard the lion doesn’t agree. The other lions tell Leonard that he has to chomp Marianne but Leonard doesn’t want to do it. The book encourages people not to do what other people say without thinking.

Libbi, aged 7

‘Leonard made the right choices’

It was a bit scary when the fierce lions were telling Leonard that he had to be fierce. I liked that they were wrong and I thought that Leonard made the right choices by not listening to the big naughty lions.

Jessica A, aged 7

If you or your class would like to write a review, please contact