This book portrays a child’s experience of serious illness movingly and imaginatively. It opens with a wordless comic strip, a format used extremely effectively at extended stages throughout the book to amplify and explore the emotions underlying the story. A pale child in turquoise pyjamas is having a nightmare involving imagery such as his body becoming jumbled jigsaw pieces, a white rabbit that looks like it stepped straight out of the surreal scenes of Jan Svankmajer’s film Alice and, most importantly, a lion which could tear him to shreds.
Russell Hoban’s words show that the child has a deep understanding of his own mortality. The encouragement of an African nurse helps Jim to recognise the significance of the lion that comes to him in dreams, giving him the strength to battle his way back to health, expressed in the illustrations as overcoming physical obstacles and dangers.