Victoria Mackinlay write about gifts and her wonderful picture book, The Lion Who Came to Stay:
THE GIFT OF STORY
Gifting season is upon us!
As many of us venture into retail spaces for the first time in months, the shops are clamouring the joy of gift giving, striving for our attention (and wallets) with Christmas catalogues and offers galore.
I’ve been reflecting a lot upon gifts this year. My latest picture book THE LION WHO CAME TO STAY (illustrated superbly by Ronojoy Ghosh) is about the very unusual present my grandfather received in 1935 (hint: it roared).
Do you remember what topped your Christmas wishlist when you were 8 years old?
My dear grandfather longed for an elephant.
His parents were working in India and were great friends with a Maharajah, who frequently inquired about their son who was at boarding school in England. When the Maharajah heard that Francis had written to his parents asking for an elephant for Christmas, he responded:
“Why don’t you take mine – he can even play the mouth organ!”
My great-grandmother seriously considered the offer for a while before declining on account of concerns about sourcing sugar cane for an elephant in London.
The Maharajah then declared his lioness had just birthed a fine litter of cubs and offered one as a present for Francis. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I’ve often been told what a gift this story is (especially for an author) and I couldn’t agree more.
My grandparents were both brilliant storytellers (a gift in itself) and my siblings and I spent hours sitting at their kitchen table, dipping shortbread fingers warm from the oven into milky tea, listening to their stories.
But the story we most relished was the story of Singh, the lion cub, and how he came to be our grandfather’s beloved pet. We too wished for a lion cub for Christmas (though we never found anything alive in our stockings).
Singh, himself, was gifted to London Zoo when my great-grandparents felt he was becoming too big and his love pats were causing bruises, though he never once bared his claws or showed anyone in the family anything other than love and affection.
It took me decades to get this story-gift down on paper. I wrote first drafts from the memory of the story told countless times at the kitchen table. Then I researched the story through newspaper clippings (Singh was the darling of the London press at the time) and, best of all, the gift of my great-grandparents’ diaries, beautifully and elegantly scripted in prose where their affection and care for the lion leapt off the page.
Singh’s story is also a gift that keeps on giving remarkable revelations. Through my research, I uncovered that George Orwell and Gandhi also played roles in my family’s story, which was picked up and covered internationally by The Guardian.
I am delighted that Scholastic has published this story and I can now gift it to a new generation of readers. It’s a story of wish-fulfilment, of friendship, of loyalty and love. It’s also a story of another era (when people could actually give lions as presents!).
As you embark on your own gift shopping this year, please visit your local booksellers (who’ve had a terribly rough year) and consider the gift of storybooks for your loved ones.
As American author Garrison Keillor said: “A book is a gift you can open again and again.”
Winner of the State Library NSW Award for Emerging Children’s Authors 2020, Victoria Mackinlay is a picture book author based in Sydney, Australia.
She loves to play with language and tell rich and vivid stories.
You can find out more about Victoria and her books on her website: https://www.victoriamackinlay.com/
Or follow her latest adventures on her social media accounts: