Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 26 Sep 2015

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

The physical dimensions of this visually stunning book are unconventionally huge for a children's book but absolutely right for this big hearted story about a 'young curious and lonely lion' who is trying to fit into busy city life.  The pages are also unusually presented in landscape style which gives it a calendar like feel - again this is effective and perhaps makes the reader linger on the illustrations. Placed in the children's section of Waterstones bookshops, I would argue that this is an art book ( it is published by Tate ) that would be just as well received by adults but, since the status of children's book illustration in art has always been contentious, I suppose the childlike subject matter is what is judged as significant.

The imaginative story was inspired by the statue of a lion by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi erected in the Place Denfert- Rochereau, Paris in the late nineteenth century. In the tradition of artists such as Richard Hamilton, Alemagna uses an effective collage approach using fragments of photographs from fashion magazines, pieces of newsprint and many other sources which are organised across a carefully drawn and coloured multi media background. The central character of the lion is drawn in a naive style and appears on every page. As he travels across Paris, this contrast in technique seems very appropriate as he doesn't seem to fit in and emphasises his evident alienation to the unfamiliar sights and sounds, the urban busyness and the preoccupation of people who seem unperturbed by the appearance of a dangerous wild animal in their midst.


There are echoes of many other fictional animals like Paddington Bear and Babar the Elephant who have been puzzled by city life. However those characters took on a quasi human persona by wearing clothes and thus were quickly assimilated. This doesn't happen to the lion in this story - he maintains the dignity of his lion-ness throughout and ultimately, that his what gets him noticed when, having acquired a taste for heights, climbing the Eiffel Tower he decides to take up his new home on a high plinth in the heart of Paris city centre. This is a fabulous book to be treasured.


Karen Argent

September 2015