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The Lion Who Came to Stay by Victoria McKinlay

Title: The Lion Who Came to Stay

A lion peaks over the top of a yellow box with the London skyline in blue behind it. On the yellow crate it reads The Lion Who Came to Stay: Based on a True Story by Victoria McKinlay. Illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh.

Author: Victoria McKinlay

Genre: History

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st July 2021

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 32

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: Based on a true story

  • The remarkable, heart-warming tale of Singh, a lion cub who came to live in a London home
  • Famous in the 1930s and 1940s, Singh’s story is told once more
  • Charmingly and engagingly illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh
  • Themes include family, animals, separation, friendship

When Francis writes a letter to his parents in India, it results in the most surprising, wonderful Christmas gift– a lion cub called Singh. The cub and Francis become the closest of friends, exploring the city, searching the sky for stars, snuggling down to sleep – and learning to ROAR!
A true story of friendship, loyalty and love.

In 1935 my grandfather Francis wrote a letter to his parents in India asking for a gift of ‘something alive’.

This sparked a remarkable chain of events which resulted in him being given a tiny golden lion cub, Singh.

Singh and Francis become the closest of friends, exploring London, searching the sky for stars, snuggling down to sleep—and learning to ROAR! 


Francis is away at boarding school when his parents write to him asking him what they can bring him back from India. Francis was the author’s grandfather, and his parents were working in India during the 1930s. The maharajah sent a special gift – a lion cub called Singh – Sanskrit for lion. Singh stayed for four months, and the story explores the relationship and friendship between Singh and Francis, which ended as Singh was sent to London Zoo once Francis had to return to boarding school, and his parents went back to India.

At the heart of this book is a friendship but also a fascinating look into the way life was lived for some people in the 1930s and 1940s – parents abroad in India for work, children in boarding school and the practise of keeping exotic pets – something that would be looked down upon these days. This story evokes a sense of time and place, a moment in history that captured a fascination with what could be termed the exotic in those days – what we don’t know and see as something intriguing that we want to experience and see but executed in different ways when we compare how things were done in the 1930s and 1940s and now.

Aimed at readers aged four and over, this book is not only a fun story, but could also be used as a learning tool across the education system to explore history and how people lived eighty to ninety years ago, and the sort of things they did that are different to how we might do things now. This beautifully illustrated story will enthral children and open up interesting conversations. I fell in love with it and love that Victoria has drawn upon her own family history to create this story, which makes it all the more special for everyone who engages with it.

The beauty in this story is in the history and the ability to share something that feels like a dream for kids – owning a lion! Using picture books to explore history is an excellent way to bring it to life for younger readers. A lovely picture book that can be used to entertain and teach at the same time. It allows readers to imagine and explore what it would be like to have a pet like this, and what it must be like to go to boarding school and have parents who live in India for most of the year. It was a very different time that books like this can help to create discussions about history and the issues raised in narratives, and to explore a different way of living, which grows a child’s understanding of the world they live in and the world that came before them.  

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