Lions & Liars

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Lions & Liars Book Poster Image
Lively tween camp misadventure has laughs, life lessons.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story's more about crazy hijinks and life lessons than formal education, but much of the narrative has a brainy tone, as in getting into the difference between "nauseated" and "nauseous."

Positive Messages

Strong messages about friendship, teamwork, learning from your mistakes, self-acceptance, and maybe not making hasty assumptions about other people.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Angsty Frederick, obsessed with not being a loser, spends a lot of time worrying about getting into trouble but still manages (accidentally and otherwise) to steal a boat, pretend to be someone else, and engage in assorted burglary and other delinquent activities with his new pals. But as the story goes on, he learns a lot about friendship, being part of a team, and empathy. The other campers start out scary and wind up BFFs; adults are generally a bit out of their depth, but mostly supportive and quick to learn from their mistakes.

Violence & Scariness

A potentially deadly boating mishap, complete with alligator, sets the story in motion. Brief but vivid scene of a lion stalking and killing a deer-like animal. Frederick's nose is broken by a bully playing dodgeball. "Atomic dodgeball" is especially aggressive. 

Language

Occasional moments involving poop, bird and otherwise. A counselor calls the boys "maggots." Gross-out humor involving nosebleeds, snot, etc.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kate Beasley's Lions & Liars, with lively illustrations by Dan Santat, is a fun, harrowing, wildly unlikely string of events that drops a bullied, worried Southern 10-year-old at a weekend camp for delinquents in a case of mistaken identity that gives him a chance to reinvent himself. Break-ins, burglaries, and escape plans ensue, as do "atomic dodgeball," gross-outs aplenty, and poop and butt humor. Amid young Frederick's constant worries and frequent missteps, he also learns a lot about teamwork, friendship, and appreciation for everyone's talents. Along the way, there's an alligator. Also a lion. And a hurricane.

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What's the story?

LIONS & LIARS is the tale of bullied 10-year-old Frederick Frederickson, who, in the social jungle of fifth grade, is not the king of beasts, to put it mildly. In fact, he's the flea on a meerkat's butt, or so his friends tell him. Frederick is counting the hours until his family's Caribbean cruise takes him away from all this and plies him with (nonalcoholic) strawberry daiquiris and chocolate fountains. But then comes Hurricane Hernando, and the trip's off. A series of mishaps involving a boat, a birthday party, and an alligator drops Frederick on the shores of a camp for delinquent boys, where he's mistaken for a hardened miscreant named Dashiell and decides he might like this new identity better. But it doesn't look like they'll be sitting around the campfire having s'mores.

Is it any good?

Kate Beasley's lively writing and Dan Santat's funny illustrations make for a chaotic tale of social anxiety, mistaken identity, juvenile delinquency, hurricane survival, and character development. Frederick is a wimpy, relatable (and relatably annoying) 10-year-old who wishes things would go his way just once -- and finds himself with an unlikely set of friends, unlikelier triumphs, and a whole new set of problems.

"He had heard the beginnings of a whine in his voice. Ten-year-olds did not whine. He took a deep breath and explained, in a calm voice, 'I've just been looking forward to this vacation for a really, really, really, really, really long time,' he said. 'It's been a bad day. A bad, bad day, and I need to go on vacation.' He folded his hands together prayerfully. 'I need a daiquiri in the worst kind of way.'

"'You and me both, kiddo,' his mom said."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories of mistaken identity, like Liars & Lions, where people suddenly get an unexpected chance to "be" someone else. What stories like this do you know? How do they turn out?

  • Have you ever met someone you thought was mean and scary, only to find out there was a lot more to them after you got to know each other? What happened?

  • In Lions & Liars, Frederick faces quite a few new challenges, like the rope-climbing relay when he's never climbed a rope in his life. Have you ever had to just do something, whether you were any good at it or not? What happened? How did it turn out?

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