Ah, adventure stories. Where a kid can do anything, be anything and save the world…or at least their own little part of it.
The Lion’s Paw is a story about three orphans, a missing father, a nasty uncle and a sailboat. Most of all, it’s the story of becoming a family through belief in yourself, hard work, trust in each other, and faith. Originally published in 1946, this story stands up to the test of time.
Penny and her brother Nick live in an eganahpro. (That’s an orphanage, to those people reading the sign from the outside of the gates.) Nick is about to be adopted, and won’t be able to see Penny for even those brief minutes they can manage to steal. Although Penny wants her brother to have a better life, it turns out that Nick has other plans. Together, the siblings decide to run away.
The next night, they sneak out of the orphanage and walk as far as they can, ending up at the wharves. Knowing they have to be out of sight by daylight, they walk along, looking for a special boat. Most of the boats are old, or dingy, or weather-beaten, but near the end of a dock, they see a beautiful sailboat. They climb on board and fall asleep.
The next morning, they wake up being attacked by a mop. At the other end of the mop is a boy named Ben, owner of the sailboat. After learning about their situation, Ben shares his own story: his father is MIA in the war. Ben shows Nick and Penny a letter from his father that tells him if he’s ever declared MIA to wait, he’ll find his way back. It might take a year, but he’ll be home. Ben tells the siblings that it’s been over a year, but he still believes his father will return. The problem, he says, is that he hasn’t accomplished the mission his father left him: to find a lion’s paw. (No, not a real lion–it’s a rare kind of seashell, found hundreds of miles away.)
While he’s waiting for his father to return home, Ben is living with his aunt and his uncle, a very unpleasant man. He spends most of his time on this sailboat his father built; mostly taking care of it, since he isn’t allowed to sail it. Penny tries to convince Ben to run away with them, but he refuses…until he overhears Uncle Pete accepting an offer to sell the boat.
What follows next is an adventurous trip down the coast and through the waterways of Florida, evading Uncle Pete, alligators, the Coast Guard and the unrelenting bounty hunters Uncle Pete has set on the escapees. Along the way Penny and Nick lose their landlubber status as they help Ben crew the boat and search for the elusive lion’s paw.
How will it all end? All I can tell you is that every time I read this book as a kid, I would immediately turn back and reread the final two chapters about four or five times, just because they were That Good. (I also cried, but that might be TMI.)
I recently reread The Lion’s Paw. It’s surprising how contemporary it feels for something that was written almost 70 years ago. When I originally read the book, I thought that “the war” everyone was referring to was Vietnam, because that was my frame of reference. I wouldn’t be surprised if kids today might think it was a book from their parents’ generation. (The lack of cell phones, Amber alerts and any kind of child protective services means that it couldn’t be this century.)
This book is great for a survival story, an adventure story, or (if the time period is pointed out) historical fiction. Kids who like sailing seem to love this story! Since the characters span a wide range of ages (Nick is 9, Penny is 12, and Ben is 15) the book is accessible for readers from about fourth through seventh grade. It’s also a wonderful read-aloud for ages eight and up. Enjoy!
As always, if you’d like help finding a book about a specific topic or for a certain age, ask one of our librarians!