A wheelchair-bound boy and his brother rescue a lion cub in this cadenced debut picture book.
Nick lives in Addis Ababa, East Africa, with his mom, dad, brother, and a pet lion. Although Nick is pictured in a wheelchair, the text doesn’t immediately call attention to this. Instead, he is shown enjoying things that other kids might like, including reading, swimming, and waterskiing. “How did Nick get a pet lion?” the text asks, moving from the introduction into the heart of the story. The lost cub found Nick’s mom sleeping on the beach; after bringing the small creature, Sandy, home, the whole family helps to take care of her. But the next morning, Sandy gets into trouble again, and Nick and his brother, Jason, have to rescue the cub from being stranded on a hippo’s back. They take the boat out toward Sandy, and Nick, the expert swimmer, safely hauls the cub back to the boat. Roussos, a motivational speaker who, like Nick, grew up in East Africa and has cerebral palsy, presents the hero’s can-do attitude lucidly and in a way that kids should admire. The repeated refrain “There’s only one thing to do when,” followed by someone being lost, scared, hungry, or in trouble, with the repeated answer, “Help!,” will give young readers plenty of opportunities to chime in with parents reading aloud. Marcus-Bause’s simplistic cartoon illustrations feature only small bursts of color, such as Nick’s superhero cape or the sun’s golden rays. The sun, moon, and stars, however, are also drawn as characters reacting to the story, as are the recurring pelicans, giving a weirdly fantastic sense to the illustrations that doesn’t appear in the text. These odd pictures distract from the tale rather than supporting it. The book offers two distinct sections: Nick’s introduction, which features short, easy-to-read sentences, and Sandy’s rescue, which has the repeated refrain and longer blocks of text. A helpful author’s note reminds children not to approach wild animals and assures readers that the Roussos family’s real-life pet lion was fostered with a wildlife organization so she could learn how to survive on her own. The author’s message of assisting others comes through clearly, and his portrait of a skillful wheelchair-bound protagonist resonates powerfully.
A clever story set in Africa with a likable hero and a strong message about helping others.