The Lion and the Bird: A Tender Illustrated Story About Loneliness, Loyalty, and the Gift of Friendship
By Maria Popova
Once in a long while, a children’s book comes by that is so gorgeous in sight and spirit, so timelessly and agelessly enchanting, that it takes my breath away. The Lion and the Bird (public library) by French Canadian graphic designer and illustrator Marianne Dubuc is one such rare gem — the tender and melodic story of a lion who finds a wounded bird in his garden one autumn day and nurses it back to flight as the two deliver one another from the soul-wrenching pain of loneliness and build a beautiful friendship, the quiet and deeply rewarding kind.
Dubuc’s warm and generous illustrations are not only magical in that singular way that only someone who understands both childhood and loneliness can afford, but also lend a mesmerizing musical quality to the story. She plays with scale and negative space in a courageous and uncommon way — scenes fade into opacity as time passes, Lion shrinks as Bird flies away, and three blank pages punctuate the story as brilliantly placed pauses that capture the wistfulness of waiting and longing. What emerges is an entrancing sing-song rhythm of storytelling and of emotion.
As an endless winter descends upon Lion and Bird, they share a world of warmth and playful fellowship.
But a bittersweet awareness lurks in the shadow of their union — Lion knows that as soon as her broken wing heals, Bird will take to the spring skies with her flock, leaving him to his lonesome life.
Dubuc’s eloquent pictures advance the nearly wordless story, true to those moments in life that render words unnecessary. When spring arrives, we see Bird wave farewell to Lion.
“Yes,” says Lion. “I know.”
Nothing else is said, and yet we too instantly know — we know the universe of unspoken and ineffable emotion that envelops each and beams between them like silent starlight in that fateful moment.
The seasons roll by and Lion tends to his garden quietly, solemnly.
Summer passes slowly, softly.
Wistfully, he wonders where Bird might be. Until one autumn day…
…he hears a familiar sound.
It is Bird, returning for another winter of warmth and friendship.
The Lion and the Bird is ineffably wonderful, the kind of treasure to which the screen and the attempted explanation do no justice — a book that, as it was once said of The Little Prince, will shine upon your soul, whether child or grown-up, “with a sidewise gleam” and strike you “in some place that is not the mind” to glow there with inextinguishable light.
The book comes from Brooklyn-based independent picture-book publisher Enchanted Lion, which has given us such immeasurable delights as Mark Twain’s Advice to Little Girls, Alessandro Sanna’s The River, Blexbolex’s Ballad, Øyvind Torseter’s The Hole, and Albertine’s Little Bird.
Complement it with another ode to childhood and loneliness from Enchanted Lion, the resurrected vintage gem Little Boy Brown, illustrated by the great André François.
Images courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books
Published May 7, 2014