Lion Lights by Richard Turere with Shelly Pollock,  illustrated by Sonia Possentini

Lion Lights: My Invention That Made Peace With Lions by Richard Turere with Shelly Pollock,  illustrated by Sonia Possentini. Tilbury House, 2022. 9780884488859

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  Richard Turere grew up as a member of the Maasai tribe in Kenya, guarding his family’s flocks of animals. “Lions need food, and a cow is much easier to grab than a zippy zebra” he writes, using the first person to tell his story. Young readers will follow Turere as he spends hours awake at night, unsuccessfully trying out a scarecrow, and then relating his tribe’s attempts to use poison, dogs, and fences to safeguard its herds. One night, when he was 11, the apex predators killed his father’s only bull; that’s when the young boy started to hate lions, even though he knew Kenya’s future depended on ecotourism.  A tinkerer from a young age, Turere thought about how the lions could be warded off with a simple flashlight and began designing (repurposing used parts) a sequentially blinking strand of lights powered by an old car battery. These homemade “Lion Lights” proved effective and cheap and ushered in an era of peace between the Maasai and the lions. Back matter provides a short history of the Maasai people and the challenges they have faced historically from colonialism and currently from climate change, as well as a glossary and a “Learning More” section. This is an authentic and inspiring story of perseverance and STEM thinking that will be engaging for those interested in animal conservation.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I didn’t love the uneven illustrations, which were literal and easy to follow, but employed a photo realism style. Some were very good (the image of young Richard looking up to see an airplane above the savannah or tinkering with the inside of a television set). Others were stiff; the lions and the dead cow in particular were not very natural looking. A map of the continent showing Kenya’s location and more information on why Turere’s lion lights worked (possibly from a wildlife expert) would have been very helpful.

To whom would you recommend this book?  This book would make a nice pairing with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwaba and Bryan Mealer (2012). Teachers with a STEM unit or families with young inventors will find Turere’s problem-solving approach instructional.

Who should buy this book? Elementary schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Probably with lions in 599.75

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: July 10, 2022

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