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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Leo and the Lesser Lion* by Sandra Forrester- young readers book review
Leo and the Lesser Lion
by Sandra Forrester
Ages 9-12 304 pages Knopf August 2009 Hardcover    

Sandra Forrester’s newest work of historical fiction introduces a most memorable character. Full of spunk and imagination, Mary Bayliss Pettigrew studies and admires heroic women but is always in some kind of trouble, often at the side of her older brother, Leo.

Times are tough in their rural Alabama community during the Depression, even for this family of a physician. Tragedy strikes when Leo, Bayliss, and a friend row out to an island in the middle of the lake. A storm approaches, Leo drowns, and Baylisss barely survives with a severe back injury. Her recovery is long and painful; she spends it wondering why her life was spared and ponders her purpose in life. Meanwhile, her older sister, Kathleen, and parents must come to grips with Leo’s death and Bayliss’s difficult recovery.

When she finally recovers, a more somber side of Bayliss emerges. She begins to study the lives of the saints and dedicates herself to helping the Sisters at her Catholic school serve the “weary travelers” (homeless). When her father invites two destitute girls to come to live with her family - in Leo’s room - Bayliss is thrown into the role of big sister/babysitter.

Resentful of her new responsibility and still grieving the loss of her brother, Bayliss tries to find the girls’ family so they can return home. When she discovers this is not an option, she gradually begins to reconnect with her own family. Finally opening her heart to the girls and acknowledging her family’s grief, she eventually reconnects with her old spirit, her family, and their new life without Leo.

Well-written and painfully realistic, Leo and the Lesser Lion is a story of familial love featuring remarkable character growth and development. With vivid word choice and descriptive language, Sandra Forrester takes the reader straight to the heart of Lenore, Alabama, conveying a strong sentiment of what it was like to live through Depression while developing a story of optimism and recovery that could be told in any setting or time.

The image of the constellation “Leo and the Lesser Lion” is introduced at the beginning and revisited at the end, tying the story together with a life-affirming message that guides the reader to consider the larger picture of life, how each of us fits into a greater plan.

With a positive message of hope revealed in family, friends and faith, the story will be well-received by teachers, students and parents. Bayliss and her family are characters who will be remembered by the reader for a long time, embodying the strength of the American spirit in the face of tragedy and hardship. Highly recommended.
Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

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  Kristine Wildner/2009 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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