When Jack and Ella come across a friendly--and talented!--lion in their backyard they are thrilled to take him in as their pet. And they're positive they know just how to care for their new pet, ignoring Grandpa's cheeky asides. But soon Leopold the Lion grows despondent and chubby. Even the circus who lost him won't take him back! Do Jack and Ella know what to do to get Leopold healthy again? A sweet story with a subtle commentary on making healthy choices.
School Library Journal: Jack and Ella discover a lion doing somersaults on their backyard trampoline and want to keep him. While the siblings easily sneak the wild feline past their distracted parents, their grandpa knowingly quips, "Doesn't look like an indoor cat to me." After Leopold is fed a misguided diet of junk food, his fur becomes knotted and the sparkle goes out of his eyes. His physical prowess is also dulled by hours of languidly playing on mobile devices. Barshaw's ink and watercolor cartoon illustrations drive home the message by showing the former king of the jungle lolling supine on the floor surrounded by empty snack wrappers and pop bottles. When reunited with his circus family, Leopold is unable to do his trademark tricks and is unceremoniously ousted. Jack and Ella bring him back home and, this time, provide a nutritious regime of "freeze-dried wildebeest" and plenty of rigorous exercise. VERDICT A whimsical story that could spark healthy living discussions.—Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ontario, Canada
Kirkus: Keeping a lion as a pet is never easy. Jack and Ella find a lion in their backyard, a lion that can perform backflips and somersaults on the trampoline! They, of course, want to keep him. Sneaking him by their parents is simple (they are busy, and the role reversal portrayed in their jobs is refreshing).
And although Grandpa seems to sense something is up, he lets them be. Jack and Ella feed the lion a steady diet of chips and snacks. When they go to school, they make sure he is occupied with plenty of electronic games. Unsurprisingly, the once-boisterous lion turns listless and lethargic. Barshaw shows him tragically slumped on the floor, barely able to lift one claw to place on the touch-screen of his device. He has no desire to go outside and play. Even when his circus past is discovered, Leopold does not want to perform anymore. Luckily, Jack and Ella (with some help from Grandpa) realize how wrong they were. Lions (and children, by extension) need a healthy diet and exercise. The lesson is obvious, but it's delivered with a light touch. Details such as the children's pictorial list of "good pets to get" and a packet of freeze-dried wildebeest ("made with pride") keep the illustrations lively. Jack, Ella, and their family are portrayed with dark skin and hair, with no obvious ethnic markers, allowing for a wide range of identification. An essential look at the importance of an active lifestyle sneakily disguised as a fanciful feline tale. (Picture book. 4-7)