This adaptation of the 2005 adult title Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived offers a remarkable animal story and beautifully showcases Lewin’s skill at portraying realistic, expressive animals. Dominated by earth tones and dark blues, Lewin’s watercolor portraits of Zamba at times call to mind Jerry Pinkney’s images of another memorable cat in The Lion and the Mouse. The story opens in Zambia, where a woman in a safari camp rescues an orphaned lion cub and names him Zamba. When the cub grows too wild to live safely among humans, his keeper contacts animal behaviorist Helfer, who brings the lion to his animal sanctuary in California. In emotive third-person narrative, Helfer (who previously collaborated with Lewin on The World’s Greatest Elephant) describes training Zamba to be less aggressive—he eventually becomes sufficiently gentle to star in Hollywood films. Zamba’s heroism emerges in the book’s final episode, in which he saves Helfer and the sanctuary animals during a flash flood. Scenes of Zamba interacting with children and other animals have a Peaceable Kingdom quality that will delight animal lovers. Ages 5–8. (July)
The New York Times Online Book Review
“The World’s Greatest Lion ably chronicles this leonine rags-to-riches tale."
Caldecott Honor–winning Lewin fills his spreads with glorious images of African animals, highlighting the bonds that can unexpectedly form between different species.
From the Publisher
“The World’s Greatest Lion ably chronicles this leonine rags-to-riches tale." — The New York Times Online Book Review
"A gorgeously illustrated picture book . . . exciting, adorable, and arresting . . . Helfer’s genuine affection for his animal companion is always apparent and Lewin’s irresistible images make this title a worthwhile purchase."
— School Library Journal
Caldecott Honor–winning Lewin fills his spreads with glorious images of African animals, highlighting the bonds that can unexpectedly form between different species. — Booklist
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
The true story of Zamba, the lion actor, begins with his birth on the African grasslands. This life ends catastrophically with the killing of his parents by a rogue lion. Fortunately, the cub escapes and is rescued by Brini and Jack, who run a safari camp. Named Zamba, he soon grows too big and wild to keep, but would be unable to survive on his own. Brini sends him to Ralph, who runs a ranch in California where he trains animals to perform. Zamba learns to be tame and friendly. Soon his movie career takes off. One stormy night, the nearby dam breaks. To save them, the animals are let out of their cages. After the flood, Zamba leads the other animals together to safety. Ralph then agrees with Brini's prediction that Zamba is "the world's greatest lion." Lewin's naturalistic watercolors depict landscapes, people, and animals in a very appealing manner. He obtains warmth in his scenes by using a raw umber ground on which to paint. The book is both informative and moving; Lewin's interpretation of his star adds Zamba to the cast of animal heroes. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—A Hollywood animal trainer tells the story of Zamba, best known as one of the mascots that precede MGM films, in this gorgeously illustrated picture book. Orphaned as a cub, he is eventually sent to live at Helfer's animal ranch in California, where his gentle nature makes him ideal for movie and television projects. Zamba proves his mettle when he leads the other animals to safety from a flood. Powerful, realistic watercolor images that dominate the pages and depict Zamba's adventure-packed life are by turns exciting, adorable, and arresting. In particular, an illustration of the enormous adult Zamba peacefully lolling on the ground surrounded by young children cements Helfer's description of him as "a real people lion." Lewin's masterful use of light and dark sets the tone of the various scenes: soft, earthy tones depict Zamba's idyllic life on the ranch, while dramatic, intense blues color the sky on the night of the storm. Information on the cub's prehuman days, as he flees from another lion who kills his parents, is likely speculative, but this slight fictionalizing will readily endear him to readers. While the story is bookended by exciting moments, this lengthy narrative drags a bit in the middle; younger readers drawn in by the content and illustrations might not make it all the way through. However, Helfer's genuine affection for his animal companion is always apparent and Lewin's irresistible images make this title a worthwhile purchase.—Mahnaz Dar, formerly at Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City