Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Listening for Lions

Listening for Lions

4.5 29
by Gloria Whelan

See All Formats & Editions

Historical fiction with a wicked twist.

Listening for Lions is a breathtaking story of tragedy, deception, and triumph against all odds. National Book Award-winning author Gloria Whelan sets this richly historical coming-of-age adventure in British East Africa in the year 1918.

This irresistible novel entangles an orphaned girl in a deceit-filled


Historical fiction with a wicked twist.

Listening for Lions is a breathtaking story of tragedy, deception, and triumph against all odds. National Book Award-winning author Gloria Whelan sets this richly historical coming-of-age adventure in British East Africa in the year 1918.

This irresistible novel entangles an orphaned girl in a deceit-filled plot. Young Rachel Sheridan is made to leave her beloved Africa for England, where she must pose as the deceased daughter of a nefarious couple in an effort to gain them an enormous inheritance. Her irrepressible spirit and extraordinary wit turn her from victim to heroine in a surprising and empowering tale of a remarkable young woman.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Whelan (Homeless Bird) places her courageous and thoughtful narrator in Africa in 1919, just after the Great War and manages to place a new twist on familiar themes. "It didn't occur to me at that moment that I, too, might become an orphan. I think I believed that because Father was a doctor, he would let no illness come to our family." When 13 year-old Rachel Sheridan loses her British missionary parents, unscrupulous neighbors exploit her resemblance to their deceased daughter, Valerie, and send her to England to try to collect the inheritance from Valerie's ailing grandfather. What sets this familiar tale apart is Rachel's love of the African land, animals and Masai people, and the details that make Whelan's narrative come alive. The author ensures that Rachel's lack of choices and her sensitive nature make her complicity wholly believable. Once in England, the girl's evolving relationship with the invalid grandfather heightens her sense of guilt about her assumed identity. However, when the villains are exposed, much of the novel's tension dissipates and the balance of the book reads somewhat like an extended epilogue. Still, Whelan's formidable and appealing heroine will keep readers rooting for her dream of a home with the lions of Africa. Ages 10-up. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Readers who became Whelan fans after discovering Homeless Bird (HarperCollins, 2000) will not be disappointed in this novel, although they should be forewarned not to expect the same kind of story. Whereas Whelan's National Book Award-winning title defies readers to put it down, this new novel is a story that will be taken more slowly as it unfolds and chronicles the unusual circumstances of Rachel Sheridan, the thirteen-year-old protagonist. Set in British East Africa in the year 1919, the tale follows the events of young Rachel's life from the moment she loses her missionary doctor parents to influenza, to her "kidnapping" by another couple who need her to replace their own young daughter fallen by the same illness, to Rachel's graduation from medical school and return to Africa. She hopes to reopen the hospital long since shut down by her parents' untimely deaths. Rachel's adventures are not the kind that invite the reader to speed through her story. Rather they encourage steady contemplations of the various tragedies, deceptions, and rewards that come her way. Listening for Lions is a quiet story that roars in its ability to help readers make sense of hardships that befall humankind. It speaks softly but leaves a lasting impression of strength of character and the wisdom of following one's dreams. It will have lasting appeal and a ready audience. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2005, HarperCollins, 208p., and PLB Ages 11 to 14.
—Elaine J. O'Quinn
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Award-winning author Whelan (Homeless Bird, National Book Award, 2000) sets this novel in Kenya where in 1919 Rachel Sheridan loses her mother and doctor father to the flu epidemic. The orphaned thirteen-year-old becomes the victim of remittance man Mr. Pritchard and his wife, who force her to impersonate their dead daughter Valerie and travel to England, where they hope she will persuade Pritchard's elderly father to let them come home and inherit. Helpless and missing her beloved Africa, Rachel nonetheless becomes fond of the Grandfather and his rural estate. Whelan's love of wildlife surfaces in her evocative use of animals (the nighttime roaring of lions) and especially birds, both English and African, like herons, eagles, thrushes, and hoopoes (pictured in Brett Helquist's charming cover illustration). The Pritchards make satisfying villains; readers will root for Rachel as she makes her difficult decision to tell the truth and triumphs over the evil schemers. Her adventures call to mind classic orphan stories like Heidi and A Little Princess, though Rachel outdoes these heroines by becoming a doctor when she grows up. (Middle readers will learn of the difficulties facing female medical students in the 1920s.) Told in the first person by a sensitive and determined young woman, Rachel's story eventually takes her back to Africa, where she will establish a new hospital. Though avoiding any exploration of colonialism in this well-written and engaging novel, Whelan, at the end, introduces hints of change in Kenya with rumors of Jomo Kenyatta and uhuru.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, July 2005: An old-fashioned story of courage that will appeal to many, by a National Book Award-winning author who is good at telling such stories. It follows the heroine Rachel Sheridan from the time she is 13 years old, living with her missionary parents in British East Africa where she was born. The worldwide flu epidemic of 1918 comes to their little village hospital and Rachel's parents both die caring for the sick. Some aristocratic British neighbors, whose daughter also died in the epidemic, persuade Rachel to impersonate their daughter and return to England to ingratiate herself and themselves with a wealthy dying grandfather. Rachel hates to lie, but she also comes to love the old man and is afraid to disappoint him by revealing her true identity. The truth does eventually come out, and Rachel, smart, compassionate girl that she is, gives the old man reason to live. He sends her to a school that will prepare her to accomplish her life's dream—to become a doctor like her father and return to rebuild the hospital in Africa. Whelan takes Rachel's story through to its triumphant conclusion. The description of life in the village in Africa, juxtaposed with Rachel's transplantation to an estate in England and her subsequent experiences at boarding school and medical school, is done vividly. Of course, any reader will admire Rachel.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Orphaned by the influenza epidemic in British East Africa in 1919, 13-year-old Rachel is sent by conniving neighbors to visit an elderly man in England, passing as their daughter-his granddaughter-to pave the way for their return and the inheritance of his estate. The daughter of a missionary doctor and his wife, Rachel has grown up connected to the African countryside and people. Terrified that to reveal her secret would hasten Grandfather Pritchard's death, and fearing life in an orphanage, she goes along with her new identity as Valerie Pritchard. But she cannot help but get involved with his love for the birds on his land, and she entertains him with stories about what is happening outside his sickroom and what kinds of things her "friend Rachel" saw in their African world. In the tradition of Frances Hodgson Burnett, this is a satisfying story of an intelligent but unassuming girl who wins the heart of an elderly man who is not such a fool as his wastrel son might think. Woven throughout are descriptions of the natural world and the people of what is now Kenya, as well as the surroundings of an early-20th-century English estate. Rachel's love for her rural African world is convincing, and readers will be gratified by the way she contrives to return and continue her parents' work. An old-fashioned and enjoyable read.-Kathleen Isaacs, Towson University, MD Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Raised in British East Africa, Rachel knows well that when parents die, their young are vulnerable to attack. Little does she suspect that the loss of her own British missionary parents to influenza will leave her to the wicked clutches of the neighboring Pritchards. In this satisfying story set in the early 20th century, the money-grubbing Pritchards swap the unassuming 13-year-old Rachel for their spoiled daughter Valerie when Valerie dies, manipulating her into traveling to England to pose as the rich, elderly Mr. Pritchard's granddaughter. The up-until-now somber novel blooms as the orphaned Rachel shares her newfound grandfather's passion for bird watching and bonds with him despite her reluctant impersonation. Though it bogs down with the rehashing of Rachel's internal dilemmas and in African animal metaphors, the story remains irresistible in a The Prince and the Pauper or The Secret Garden sort of way. Readers will cheer as the truth sets Rachel free, and as she, against all odds, becomes a doctor and returns to Africa to rebuild the hospital where her father healed patients before her. (glossary, author's note, bibliography) (Fiction. 12-15)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
900L (what's this?)
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Listening for Lions MSR

Chapter One

It crept up on us like the hyenas I heard at night from my window, drawn to us, Kanoro said, by the smell of death. It was 1919, and because the Great War was over, we had thought all the deaths were at an end, but it wasn't so. All over the world the cruel influenza had been taking lives. In America half a million people died; in India, many, many millions. In British East Africa, where I was living, the influenza began in the seaport of Mombasa, traveled three hundred miles to the city of Nairobi, and from there crept onto the farms and plantations and into the Kikuyu and Masai shambas. At last it reached Tumaini, the mission hospital where my father was a doctor and my mother a teacher. The influenza killed my parents.

My parents had been sent from England as missionaries to the Kikuyu and the Masai. There had been a minister at our mission, but he had left to serve in the war. Father had tried to carry on with the church work, but he was often too busy with the hospital. He said, "When a man lies with his leg sliced open and the bone sticking out, there is no time for preaching." My parents had been in Africa for fourteen years. I was born the year after they arrived. Africa was the only home I knew. I could not imagine living anywhere else.

The beds in our hospital were filled with Africans and the wards and hallways crowded with their families. Father treated sleeping sickness, plague, smallpox, and leprosy. He helped mothers whose babies had a hard time being born. One miracle especially filled me with joy. I watched as blind people were led to the hospital. When Father removed their cataracts, they walkedhome on their own. I would close my eyes and imagine I could not see. After a minute of darkness I would open my eyes to the sun and all the bright colors that were Africa. Later, when I had to live in England's bleak winters, I wished for my own miracle to give me back Africa's brightness.

The families of the patients who came to our hospital camped out on the grounds of the hospital, for they would not leave the care of a family member to a stranger. All day long you could hear the Kikuyu chattering to one another and smell the smoke of their fires as they roasted a goat or cooked their maize porridge, posho. The men of the Masai wore togalike cloths draped over their shoulders and carried spears. The men of the Kikuyu wore blankets or sometimes nothing at all. The Kikuyu women were clothed in leather aprons or hundreds of strings of bright beads. When the Kikuyu came to work at the hospital as nurses and assistants, the men wore khaki shorts and shirts and the women plain white dresses and caps. They were like birds who had shed their rich plumage.

Father had begged the mission board in England for another doctor and a nurse, but the war had taken all the doctors and nurses, so Father trained the Kikuyu to assist him. One of the men, Ita, was already performing minor surgery, and one of the nurses, Wanja, was the anesthetist.

The Masai would not be trained and seldom came to our church. The Kikuyu first came out of respect for Father, but soon they were enjoying the singing and many eagerly took up the new faith. Mother had taught me to play hymns on the piano, and the Kikuyu would call out their favorites and I would turn the pages of the hymnal to their choices, until after a while I knew them all by heart and could play as loudly as they could sing.

We were only a small hospital. There was a large hospital in Nairobi for white people and another for the native Africans, but the city was a long drive over bad roads. When I went into Nairobi with my parents to McKinnon's store, it was by oxcart. My favorite place in Nairobi was the Indian bazaar, with its wonderful smells and its counters heaped with spices. My parents didn't mix with the wealthy English planters and would not have been welcome in their cricket and tennis clubs. "With their drinking and foolery," my father said, "they are like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are headed for destruction."

On the very few occasions I had been allowed to accompany Mother and Father to Nairobi, the planters we saw going about on the streets appeared well behaved. I supposed the middle of the day was not the time for drinking and foolery.

One of the farmers I disliked, a Mr. Pritchard, had a sisal plantation near our hospital. Occasionally he sent over one of the natives on his plantation who had taken ill, but he would never inquire as to how the man was doing. Once a Kikuyu who worked for him had been brought to the hospital by the other workers because he had been beaten by Mr. Pritchard. He was covered with blood, and his ribs were broken. It was the only time I heard Father use a curse word. Mother and Father did not gossip, but on that evening Father spoke again of drinking and foolery. I heard him say, "Pritchard is sure to gamble away that farm in one of his drinking bouts."

During the war many of the Kikuyu had been drafted by the British to serve as porters in the British army. British soldiers had fought the Germans in nearby German East Africa. After the war the Kikuyu came back with nothing but bits of their worn uniforms, but they had seen a world beyond the native reserves. They no longer wanted anything to do with men like Mr. Pritchard, but they had to pay hut taxes to the British government, and the only way the Kikuyu could get the money for the taxes was to work for the planters.

Listening for Lions MSR. Copyright © by Gloria Whelan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Gloria Whelan is the bestselling author of many novels for young readers, including Homeless Bird, winner of the National Book Award; Fruitlands: Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect; Angel on the Square; Burying the Sun; Once on This Island, winner of the Great Lakes Book Award; and Return to the Island. She lives in the woods of northern Michigan.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Listening for Lions 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you like sad but yet hopeful stories that keep you exited all the way, Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan is your book. Whelan is an author that likes to describe a lot and put you in the characters position. This realistic Fiction takes place in Tumaini, Africa in the years 1919-1923. This book is about a girl named Rachel Sheridan a sad, unfortunate girl who becomes an orphan after both her parents¿ die of Influenza. Rachel then has to deal with the fact she is an orphan and the thought she wants to become a doctor to help the sick people in Tumaini. Gratefully a family friend, Mrs. Pritchard a strict, mean, cold hearted lady helped Rachel and didn¿t send her to an orphanage. But there is a catch. Mrs. Pritchard¿s daughter Valerie a spoiled brat also died of Influenza. Mrs. Pritchard asked Rachel to pretend she was Valerie and go to England and make the grandfather better from his sickness. But is Mrs. Pritchard really helping her? Rachael is dying to tell the grandfather the truth and she can¿t stand lying about her life. But Mrs. Pritchard threatens her to call police. Will the grandfather find out Rachel is not Valerie? Will Rachel go to an orphanage or worst jail? Will she follow her dream and become a doctor in Tumaini like her dad? I really enjoyed this book because of the author¿s style and the meaning of the story. I hope you enjoy it as well. So read listening for lions and discover what will happen to Rachel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in school and I LOVED it!!! Definetly a good read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this a couple of years ago and it was my favorite book! Excellent storyline, magnificent characters, and flawlessly written!!! What more can I say? If you haven't read this book, I seriously suggest you do!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book makes you want to read more and tells great story. It's really a great book that intrests you also. If you like a good book you sould consider it! :)-|-<
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in class and it was terrific! This is one of my favorite books! :-) I recommend for everyone to read this! You will not regret it!! :-D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Listening for Lions is an interesting book if you enjoy learning about Africa through a young teen's eyes. Rachel is orphaned when her missionary doctor parents die of influenza in Africa in 1919. She ends up being convinced to pose as another girl and returns to England to visit her &quot;grandfather&quot; instead of spending time at an orphanage. She struggles with lying to him and must be patient and strong like a lion to overcome her new predicament. Some things the story helped teach me: 1. find happiness in your life, regardless of your situation. 2. you can live your dreams, even when there are things standing in your way. Overall I think it was a good and entertaining book and I would recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing!!!! Some people think that you should be at least 11or 12 before you read it but I strongly disagree!!! I read it in fourth grade and I was fine!!! And usually I am a very sensitive person!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was an absolutley wonderful book! I could not put it down! Great storyline!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book for a book report, and I read it all in one night, I couldn't stop because it eas soo good! I would definatly read this book over and over again. And the way Africa is described by Rachel actually makes you want to go there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
it is sad,happy, and funey.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was great! Even as an adult, I couldn't help but indulge my craving for this book. I could barely stand to put it down! Rachel is excellent role model and example for young readers...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago