leo and the lesser lionLG
Leo and the Lesser Lion
Author: Sandra Forrester
Pages: 298
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House/2009
ISBN: 9780375856167
Age Levels: 9-12

Book Review

Update, 2015: This book has been a favorite in my classroom. It is one of my "go-to" books when a reader requests something "really, really good."


Mary Bayliss Pettigrew is a spunky, prank-playing twelve-year-old who lives with her loving family in Alabama during the Depression. Even though Bayliss’ father is the town doctor, the Depression has affected everyone and times are lean.

Early on in the story, Leo, Bayliss’ older, beloved brother, drowns in Sweet Springs Lake during an unexpected storm. Bayliss nearly dies herself when she slips from a cliff and into the water below, breaking her back. Although her heart has stopped, Bayliss is resuscitated by a quick-thinking neighbor. She becomes known around town as the girl who was brought back from the dead. One of her nurses in the hospital tells Bayliss that she must have been given a second chance at life because she had some special purpose to fulfill. Bayliss eventually decides this purpose is to become a nun like her teachers at Sacred Heart—much to the dismay of everyone. Undeterred, Bayliss begins to read up on the lives of the Saints, especially the "ones who started out bad. The kind who ran wild when they were young and then, later in life, saw the light and turned holy."

When her back heals, Bayliss begins volunteering at the local mission, feeding "weary travelers" (homeless, out-of-work men). Just when she begins to enjoy the job, her father brings home two little girls from the orphanage due to overcrowding. Bayliss must give up her charitable work at the mission to help care for the sisters. She is angry about this, as well as the fact that the two strangers are given Leo’s room.

Although Leo is constantly in her thoughts, Bayliss rarely has an opportunity to talk about him, or the accident. It seems that her family has decided that silence is the best way to deal with their grief. Over the months, Bayliss slowly, grudgingly, comes to love the two little girls. When she finds out that they will be put into permanent homes but separated from one another, her solution brings to a head all of the deep-felt emotions her family has been suppressing since Leo’s death. In the realistic and wonderfully satisfying conclusion, the members of the Pettigrew family realize that together they have all they need to cope with their grief.

Leo and the Lesser Lion offers up a rich sense of time and place and wholly believable characters. It is a brilliantly told story of loss and the power of love to heal the human heart.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by K.J. Wagner
©2009 Education Oasis http://www.educationoasis.com

About the Author

Sandra Forrester is the author of Dust from Old Bones, Sound and Jubilee, and My Home is over Jordan. She is also the author of the series Beatrice Bailey's Magical Adventures.

Ms. Forrester has a master's degree in library and information studies. She lives in Alabama with her three cats, Cayenne, Cyrus, and Harry.