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Pickle Me This

February 11, 2015

The Lion’s Own Story

the-lions-own-storyA year and a half ago, I fell head over heels in love with the book Ellen’s Lion by Crockett Johnson (who is best known for Harold and the Purple Crayon), a strange and funny book that surely inspired Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator by Mo Willems. It was unusual book, published in 1959 a collection of short stories a bit like the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel or George and Martha by James Marshall, but with more text and fewer illustrations—some pages had no illustrations at all. And I found these stories mesmerizing, so beautiful, hilarious and weird. As Lion is a stuffed toy, all the action takes place in Ellen’s imagination, but as Ellen’s imagination is a thoroughly remarkable place, this doesn’t lessen the stories’ appeal, and they all walk this strange line where it’s never clear where the reality ends and fantasy begins, each one a trick each character is playing on the other. I loved it.

And I was intrigued to discover that Johnson had published a sequel four years later: The Lion’s Own Story. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. Not a copy to be found in the Toronto Public Library system, nor a used copy to be found online (except for one that was for sale for $300). Which made me wonder if the book was any good—it must not have been in print so long for copies to be so rare, and it’s really unusual for a book to not be anywhere in our city’s huge public library system (which has a special collection for rare children’s books).

But one day in January, I happened to take a look for it online, as I did from time to time, and discovered a copy on sale for $19.00.  It wasn’t listed in great condition, which made my husband wary, but I put it to him this way: Would you rather have a crappy copy of The Lion’s Own Story, or never ever get to read it in your life? He saw my point.

Two days ago the book arrived, and the condition isn’t so bad at all. It’s been discarded from the Pacific Grove Public Library in California, which makes it seem like a very exotic arrival in our eyes, even if it smells a bit like a basement. And the stories are really terrific. Perhaps not quite as excellent as those in Ellen’s Lion, but that’s a tall order. It was marvellous to encounter Ellen and her lion again, and I’m going to get to thinking about these books, and write something more about them. Because they’re amazing examples of how smart and fantastic children’s literature can be. And literature too in general.

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