Published by: Chicken House, 2nd March 2023
One of our favourite reads of 2023 so far, Dandy, The Highway Lion by Stephanie Sorrell, illustrated by Roxana de Rond and published by Chicken House is wonderfully old-fashioned storytelling. Taking me back to my own childhood favourites such as Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, with a dose of The Tiger Who Came To Tea mixed in, this 1920's novel, set in London, is an absolute delight.
Ben and Hattie are struggling to adjust to their new life in London. But when they meet a gentlemanly lion in the park called Mr. Dandy Paws, an unlikely friendship blooms between them. But Dandy is a highway lion on a mission and soon Ben and Hattie are caught up in dangerous adventure whilst trying to avoid a Private Investigator who is determined to sniff out the identity of the highway lion and bring him to justice.
For me, this immediately had the feel of a timeless classic with a larger-than-life character at its centre. Debonair Dandy leaps off the page with flair and panache - a loveable rogue (or he is?) who develops an endearing and rather humorous friendship with two young children. Naturally Ben and Hattie are over the moon at landing a lion as a best friend because what child wouldn't want a lion as a best friend?
However, Dandy isn't the only stand-out character by any means. Leonard is a brilliant, sheepish sidekick while Dandy's bear friend will melt your heart. We loved Miss. Postlethwaite's plain but dogged determination which complimented Dandy's flamboyance and posed a permanent lingering threat similar to a unmoving grey raincloud.
Despite being a fun, roguish adventure, Stephanie's Sorrell's novel tackles big themes. In the same way Dandy sits at the centre of the story, so does animal welfare. Not only does Sorrell hold humans to account over their treatment of wild creatures, she raises a discussion around animals kept in captivity, one that the animal characters contribute to through their voices on the page. Sorrell shows rather than tells, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions on the subject but the result is hugely thought-provoking and there is a great twist at the end. This is magical realism at its best - perfect for adventure lovers, animal lovers and those drawn to the dangerous enigma of highwaymen.