The World’s Greatest Lion: A True Story of Survival

Ralph Helfer, Author, Ted Lewin, Illustrator
Ralph Helfer, illus. by Ted Lewin. Philomel, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-399-25417-8
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This adaptation of the 2005 adult title Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived offers a remarkable animal story and beautifully showcases Lewin’s skill at portraying realistic, expressive animals. Dominated by earth tones and dark blues, Lewin’s watercolor portraits of Zamba at times call to mind Jerry Pinkney’s images of another memorable cat in The Lion and the Mouse. The story opens in Zambia, where a woman in a safari camp rescues an orphaned lion cub and names him Zamba. When the cub grows too wild to live safely among humans, his keeper contacts animal behaviorist Helfer, who brings the lion to his animal sanctuary in California. In emotive third-person narrative, Helfer (who previously collaborated with Lewin on The World’s Greatest Elephant) describes training Zamba to be less aggressive—he eventually becomes sufficiently gentle to star in Hollywood films. Zamba’s heroism emerges in the book’s final episode, in which he saves Helfer and the sanctuary animals during a flash flood. Scenes of Zamba interacting with children and other animals have a Peaceable Kingdom quality that will delight animal lovers. Ages 5–8. (July)
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