"...offers reflections on the experience of living in West Africa from the perspective of a young white American boy"

This contemplative picture book offers reflections on the experience of living in West Africa from the perspective of a young white American boy. As noted on the opening page, the boy's teacher has asked her students to keep journals; the narrative is thus a series of journal entries detailing the boy's experiences (such as encountering a disabled boy who sells butterflies, hunting a thief--who turns out to be a monkey, and acquiring a special knife, complete with backstory, from the local blacksmith) and his struggle to appreciate the culture around him. Many of the entries feature Yampabou, a West African friend who assists the boy in understanding the many strange and bewildering encounters he experiences; his quiet wisdom and gentle humor guide the tone of the narrative. The entries stand isolated, each individually titled, and lean toward the abstract, with lessons buried deep within the rich language and subtle undertones of the boy's movement toward understanding. Rather than offering detailed descriptions of occurrences, the vignettes are spare, allowing readers to interpret the meaning for themselves and to feel that they, like the protagonist, are looking out onto an unfamiliar culture from the inside. Painted scratchboard and oil illustrations framed in wide, earth-toned borders face most page of text; compositional details range from hatch and cross-hatch to thick paint strokes, offering an unusual but very effective combination of styles that gains both strength and intricacy from the network of lines. The individual entries would work very well as either discussion starters or writing samples; reflective older readers are also likely to engage with the complex subtlety of the boy's thoughtful observations.
 

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"...it will also make them think about people in different parts of the world..."

Gr. 3-5. In this picture book for older children, a white American boy visiting a village in West Africa tells how he learns from his friend Yampabou about "the mysteries and magic" of a different culture. In one- to two-page episodes, loosely gathered together as a journal and illustrated with full-page colored woodcuts, the visitor records his experiences. The boy sees both wonderful and sad things, such as a baboon chained to a mango tree. He learns that people in the village eat mice ("the one who caught it got the head"). When he expresses shock that they also eat dogs, Yampabou explains he is just as appalled that Americans eat pigs. More than separate episodes, the experiences move together toward a surprising climax: Will Yampabou find his courage by catching a lion and eating its heart? Yes and no. The friendship story will touch readers; it will also make them think about people in different parts of the world and about Yampabou's laughing comment "that what is forbidden for one is completely acceptable for another."
 

Hazel Rochman Copyright © American Library Association.

"...impressively stylistic artwork of Mary Watson..."

The collaborative work of author Peter Watson and illustrator Mary Watson, The Heart of the Lion is the picturebook story of a young American boy and his West African adventures with his friend Yampabou as recorded in the pages of his personal journal. It is through the people he meets and the animals he encounters that this American boy comes to understand and respect the rich culture and traditions of West Africa. Peter Watson is a natural born storyteller who himself first experienced the mystery and magic of African culture as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Dahomey/Benin. The impressively stylistic artwork of Mary Watson is a perfect showcase and complement to this story told in discrete segments that will engage the total attention of young readers from first page to last. The Heart of the Lion is an enthusiastically recommended addition to family, school and community library picturebook collections.

James A. Cox, Oregon, WI - Midwest Book Review

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