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Leo and the Lesser Lion

Leo and the Lesser Lion

4.6 8
by Sandra Forrester

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A heartwarming family story set during the Depression that reads like a classic.

Everyone's been down on their luck since the Depression hit. But as long as Mary Bayliss Pettigrew has her beloved older brother, Leo, to pull pranks with, even the hardest times can be fun. Then one day, there’s a terrible accident, and when Bayliss wakes up afterward


A heartwarming family story set during the Depression that reads like a classic.

Everyone's been down on their luck since the Depression hit. But as long as Mary Bayliss Pettigrew has her beloved older brother, Leo, to pull pranks with, even the hardest times can be fun. Then one day, there’s a terrible accident, and when Bayliss wakes up afterward, she must face the heartbreaking prospect of life without Leo.

And that’s when her parents break the news: they’re going to be fostering two homeless little girls, and Bayliss can’t bear the thought of anyone taking Leo’s place. But opening her heart to these weary travelers might just be the key to rebuilding her grieving family.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the midst of the Great Depression, headstrong 12-year-old Mary Bayliss Pettigrew lives a somewhat lonely life in Lenore, Ala. Her touchstone is her fun-loving brother Leo, until he drowns in Sweet Springs Lake. Tormented by the question of why she survived (“What sense did it make to love a cat—or a person—when God could just snatch them away from you at any moment?”), Bayliss searches for her “special purpose” in order to bring Leo’s spirit back. Sensitive and hardworking, she slowly develops the strength to incorporate the pain of the past with the joy of the present. She’s set her mind on becoming a nun when her parents decide to take in two orphans. At first Bayliss resents these “weary travelers,” but despite the family’s temporary poverty, she learns to love again. Forrester’s (the Beatrice Bailey series) tale is replete with period charm and solid dialogue, and carries a clear message of selflessness: “When you put somebody else’s needs ahead of your own, you just might end up getting something you need in return.” Ages 8–12. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
This outstanding story is set during the depression but could easily be told about life in many small communities today. Bayless, soon to turn twelve, and her brother Leo, sixteen, have a special relationship. Leo is known for trying anything and Bayless's favorite pastime is reading about adventurous women in history. Leo has restored a discarded rowboat for Bayless's twelfth birthday but on the maiden voyage, a tragedy strikes and Leo drowns. The family struggles, each in their own way, to cope with the loss of Leo, mostly ignoring their feelings. When a local church that takes in children whose families can no longer care for them asks for help from the community, Bayless's father volunteers to take in two girls temporarily. As Bayless and her older sister struggle with the addition to their family and with each other, their maturity is challenged. When the time comes to either let the girls go or keep them permanently, the entire family must face the loss of Leo and what it means to care for and about others in a time of need. A multitude of vividly drawn characters and rich settings make this coming-of-age story a memorable one. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D.
VOYA - Kathy Starks
Poverty, homelessness, grief, and family conflicts are issues that are ageless and universal. During America's Great Depression, these problems were exacerbated as children were abandoned to strangers and institutions for adequate shelter and food. This gentle, heartfelt novel provides readers a glimpse of the lives their elders might have led. Mary Bayliss and her older brother Leo are mischievous, fun-loving, and full of high spirits, much to the dismay of older sister Kathleen. Members of the Catholic community in Lenore, Alabama, the Pettigrew family lives adequately through this difficult time thanks to Dr. Pettigrew, who willingly accepts barter goods in lieu of payment for his medical services. Gifts at birthdays and Christmas are scarce, but Leo is able to give Mary Bayliss an old rowboat he has fixed up for her twelfth birthday. The first time they take the boat out, however, a tragic accident results in Leo's death and nearly paralyzes Mary Bayliss. In the wake of this event, Dr. Pettigrew agrees to take in two abandoned children and provide them a temporary haven. Mary Bayliss's willingness to be charitable is stretched thin during this time—can she forgive her parents and open her bruised heart to two "weary travelers"? Forrester, author of the Beatrice Bailey's Magical Adventures series, uses the first-person narrative to effectively portray the thoughts and emotions of a twelve-year-old tomboy in the rural South during the 1930s. Reminiscent of Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver (Lippincott, 1969) and Dovey Coe by Frances O'Roark Dowell (Atheneum/S&S, 2000/VOYA June 2000), the novel provides historical and regional details to enhance the story line.Reviewer: Kathy Starks
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—In this story set in Alabama during the Depression, 12-year-old Bayliss describes her love for her big brother, Leo, and their fun-filled pranks. Wherever Leo was, Bayliss couldn't be far behind. But one tragic day, an accident takes his life while she is spared, and she questions why. A nurse suggests that it's a miracle and that there must be a reason she was saved, and Bayliss decides to find her life's purpose. She researches saints and thinks she might become a nun, a change from her former spunky behavior. She is determined to have a charitable activity and decides to help nuns with the "weary travelers" at the hobo camp. The local orphanage is filled to capacity and her parents bring two sisters into their home until permanent placement can be found. Bayliss resents this intrusion, but wonders if these two girls are her charitable contribution. The entire family questions their Catholic beliefs and the actions of God. Quirky and thought-provoking, This novel takes readers on a personal journey of discovery. Forrester's depth of insight into the memorable characters she has developed and the emotions she mines make for a satisfying read—one that will cause readers to question their purpose and hug their families.—Helen Foster James, University of California at San Diego
Kirkus Reviews
A Depression-era tale set in tiny Lenore, Ala., may not have immediate or obvious appeal. But Forrester creates a compelling account of how hardship can be overcome and grief survived, however grudging and reluctant our efforts may be. Mary Bayliss Pettigrew, just turned 12, is the engaging narrator, and her first-person voice captures readers' interest immediately with an account of her near-death by drowning. The plot then circles back to the events that led to her accident (and the death of her beloved older brother). The bulk of the book details the following year and the family's efforts to cope with change as they mourn the loss of Leo and welcome (or not) two destitute children into their midst. Bayliss's unlikely desire to become a nun, her prickly relationship with her outspoken grandmother and the believable evolution of her relationship with Gwen and Isabel, the sisters her family has taken in, all ring true. Dialogue is particularly effective, creating a strong sense of time and place without exaggeration or condescension. Solid and satisfying. (Historical fiction. 9-12)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December 2009:
“This is a friendly book of considerable likability and genuineness, and readers will find Bayliss lively company.”

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Random House
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE: Six of one

It all started with the boat. If Mr. Davies hadn't given Leo that old rowboat, we wouldn't have been anywhere near the lake and none of it would have happened. At first, I'd think about that a lot, even though it didn't change a thing. I couldn't seem to help it.

But that Saturday night in March, two days before my life would change forever, I didn't even know yet that there was a boat. I was just sitting in bed scribbling away--with my cat, Rosie, asleep in my lap--feeling pretty near content.

If the neighbors had looked out at our house around eleven-thirty, they would have seen that all the windows were dark except for one of the dormers on the second floor. That was my room. It was way past my bedtime, but I was writing in my tablet like I'd been doing for the past two years, ever since I did that report on the Alaska Territory for Sister Agnes's class and came across something that made me sit up and take notice. I was at the library reading about Alaska in an old National Geographic when this one paragraph just leaped out at me. It told how a lady explorer named Dora Keen had risked life and limb to climb a glacier-covered mountain called Mount Blackburn. She faced all kinds of dangers--snowstorms and avalanches and freezing cold--but thirty-three days after starting up that mountain, she became the first woman to ever make it to the top.

Well, I just kept reading that paragraph over and over, soaking up the details. And the wonder of it. Because I'd never heard of a woman doing anything like that before. In school, when the nuns talked about explorers, they were all men, like Christopher Columbus or Lewis and Clark. Nobody had ever mentioned Dora Keen, who, in my opinion, was a sure-dog marvel. And that's when the idea started growing inside my head that I could be an explorer someday, too, just like Dora Keen.

Then I started wondering if there might be other women I'd never heard of who'd done astonishing things and decided to make it my business to find out. Leo and Miss Ida Henderson at the library helped me look through newspapers and magazines, and sure enough, we came across a whole slew of ladies who should have been written up in the history books but weren't. So Leo had one of his brilliant notions--that I write my own book about them--and he bought me a Big Chief tablet at Gilchrist Mercantile to get me started.

We talked over what to call it and finally settled on Remarkable Women and Their Amazing Adventures. I printed that on the cover, and then Leo said I should add By Bayliss Pettigrew, which I thought was a nice touch. Inside, I wrote about every woman we'd found, and I kept coming up with new ones till all but the last few pages of my tablet were filled with these ladies and their adventures.

Anyhow, that Saturday night in March, I was putting down the facts of Ruth Law flying an airplane from Chicago to New York and setting a new record, but also keeping my ears open. At the first squeak of my mother and daddy's bedroom door, I was ready to scoot under the covers like I'd been asleep all along. But it wasn't anybody in the house who broke the silence; it was the sudden pounding on the front door that startled me so, I nearly jumped out of my skin before recovering enough to switch off the lamp.

I sat there holding Rosie, my heart thumping like crazy, while the pounding on the door grew louder and more desperate. It took a few seconds for me to realize that it was probably just somebody needing Daddy, somebody with sickness in the family or a baby on the way. Not everybody had a telephone, especially out in the country, so it wasn't unusual for folks to come by the house at all hours.

Daddy was hurrying down the hall to the stairs, the floorboards creaking under his feet. Soon the pounding stopped, and I heard a man's voice, gruff with worry, and then my daddy speaking in that calm, steady way of his.

My eyes were beginning to adjust to the dark. I could make out the window at the foot of my bed and a square of night sky that was lighter than the blackness in my room. I was staring out the window, waiting for Daddy to come back upstairs, when all of a sudden something on the other side of the glass moved.

Well, I jerked back like I'd just met up with the boogeyman and was fixing to hop out of bed and go running for my daddy, but I held still long enough to take another peek. And what I saw was the shadowy outline of a head and shoulders pressed against the panes. Somebody was out on that roof, hunkered down so he wouldn't be seen. A thief, most likely, intending to break into the house till he heard the commotion downstairs. And now he was just biding his time, waiting for things to get quiet again.

Except . . . I'd never heard of a house being robbed around these parts. Kids might raid a watermelon patch or make off with a few eggs from somebody's chicken coop, but we'd never had what you'd call an honest-to-goodness crime spree in Lenore, at least not that I could recall. And then it came to me. There was only one person in town who made a habit of coming and going at night by way of an upstairs window when there were perfectly good doors he could have used.

Leo, I thought, and let out the breath I'd been holding in.

It was Leo who had shown me how we could go across the roof to the open sunporch outside Mother and Daddy's room and take the porch stairs down to the yard at night to play our tricks. Like the time we dressed up old Mr. Jackson's scarecrow in our grandmother's underwear, and a month later folks were still asking him how his girlfriend was doing. Or that Christmas when Leo and I sneaked over to the manger scene they'd set up in front of Sacred Heart and replaced the baby Jesus with a smoked ham.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Sandra Forrester is the author of several historical fiction novels and is also the author of the Beatrice Bailey Magical Adventure series. She has a master’s degree in library and information studies and lives in Alabama. This is her first novel for Knopf.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Leo and the Lesser Lion 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even from the sample book i can tell it's good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is now one of my fav. Books. I really enjoyed it. It acually made e cry
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I like ron weasley
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mary Bayliss is a fiesty, fun-loving, 12-year-old girl living in a small southern town during the Depression. She and her older brother, Leo, are very close, and Bayliss has grown up following his lead, especially when it comes to pulling pranks on their neighbors. But then Leo dies, and Bayliss has to find a way to go on without him. The route she chooses is unusual to say the least, and often hilarious. This is a book about love and loss and healing after "the worst thing in the world happens." No matter what your age, if you're looking for a book that will bring tears to your eyes one moment and make you laugh out loud the next, this is the book for you. I highly recommend it to anyone 9 or older, even adults! I promise you, the Pettigrew family will steal your heart.