Children’s book of the week: Call Me Lion

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Here’s the spot where we recommend a children’s book every week – this time it’s Call Me Lion by Camilla Chester…

One of the greatest things about contemporary children’s literature is how diverse and representative it can be – often even more so than so-called ‘adult’s literature. An empathy machine, a good book can reflect an otherwise unique experience and help make it accessible. A lesson without being lecturing, a guide on the side helping build understanding of the world around us.

Just because a child doesn’t speak, that doesn’t make them silent. Leo, known to his family as Lion, has selective mutism. It doesn’t mean he can’t talk or doesn’t want to talk. But his body freezes, stopping his vocal cords and filling his head with nasty thoughts. The other children at school don’t understand, until this summer when his new neighbour Richa arrives. She’ll be in his year group when school starts up again in six weeks – but she has her own secret that has her just as worried as Leo. 

Few middle grade novels are as charming as this one, nor do they encourage kindness in such a gently warming manner. Leo and his experience of selective mutism is incredibly wellrendered, his story so insightfully and considerately told. Leo wants to be a West End performer he has the talent and a hugely supportive family, but his personal battle is putting his place at the end-of-summer dance show on the line. Richa’s arrival in his life is perfectly timed as her chatty nature means she speaks enough for the pair …to start with.

Richa’s secret is just an impactful as Leo’s, and it’s also one rarely depicted or given a platform. To say much more would be spoilers but suffice to say the way her bold and confident front hides a massive insecurity feels like a much-needed reminder to us all about looking out for others. All humans, but especially children, are like icebergs – you never know fully what is going on under the surface. Joining them on their burgeoning friendship journey, determinedly supporting each other through their respective battles, is such a pleasure to follow.

A hugely heart-warming, inclusive, and impactful must-read.

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