The Lions of Little Rock

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
The Lions of Little Rock Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Poignant story of a shy girl who speaks for social justice.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 10 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Middle-grade and middle-school readers of The Lions of Little Rock will learn about political and social issues arising from the racial prejudice held in the American South in the 1950s. The book's fictional characters discuss real-life events, such as the violence and cruelty suffered by the Little Rock Nine (the first black students to attend all-white Little Rock, Ark., high schools), Emmett Till (who was murdered at age 14 for allegedly flirting with a white woman). The characters' conflicts also reveal a variety of the real, differing perspectives held by whites and blacks at the time. Also, the mundane aspects of the book show common gender roles, school life, and other historical details about 1950s American life.

Positive Messages

The Lions of Little Rock takes a realistic view toward the prejudice, fear, and danger that threatened African Americans and "integrationists" in 1950s Little Rock, and never pretends that these problems were easily resolved. But above all, the author emphasizes the power of friendship and human connection over prejudice, and how important it is for individuals to speak out and work together against injustice.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The strongest role model in The Lions of Little Rock is 12-year-old Marlee Nisbett, who overcomes debilitating shyness to face her fears and her enemies. Marlee, won't give up on her sense of justice or on the friend she loves. She also has some excellent role models: Her older brother and sister are caring and supportive. Her parents --particularly her father -- are loving, honest, and fair. And many of her teachers -- at junior high and at Sunday school -- are generous with their time and work for civil rights.


The Lions of Little Rock includes some suspenseful parts where characters are threatened by violence. An explosion takes place, and though no one is hurt, the threat from violent bigots is very real in the world of the novel. Also, characters talk frankly with young people about the murder of Emmett Till and other violent acts perpetrated or threatened against African Americans and white "integrationists."


Offensive language in The Lions of Little Rock is bigoted language. The "N" word is used by some white characters, sometimes in reference to children.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Twelve-year-old kids find empty beer cans, which suggests that a couple of teenagers have been drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Lions of Little Rock is a fictional story about a meaningful friendship between two girls in late-1950s Little Rock, Ark. The novel is set against the backdrop of high school closings by local and state governments opposed to integrating Little Rock schools. Children and adults in the novel struggle to form their own opinions on the issue, and they grapple with how much to speak up in the face of real threats of being ostracized, losing a job, or being violently attacked. The book takes an unvarnished view of bigotry in the American South at that time, describing real events that could be frightening and confusing to modern kids. Providing background information about the Little Rock Nine and about the evolution of race relations in the United States will help middle-grade readers, especially, understand this book.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12-year-old Written byhungryhippo333 January 5, 2015


this book has a great meaning and is such a good book is hard for kids to understand some words and there meanings so a lesson of segregation might be good but... Continue reading
Parent of a 7 and 10-year-old Written bypvjandk February 17, 2021

Kid age 10

It's a really good book but just be aware that there is some violence.
Teen, 13 years old Written byBestReader April 18, 2021

I love this book

This book is a good example of friendship. My little sister read it at nine and I think that's a good age. It does have some language but if you're ma... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old March 2, 2021

Love it

Yes they use bad language here and there, but all else aside it’s a good book with a good message. If you want your teacher to reach this, just tell them to ski... Continue reading

What's the story?

Marlee Nisbett is a painfully shy middle-schooler who can really use a friend. She is comfortable speaking only to her own family members, who love her as she is but encourage her to try to \"say at least five words today.\" As the book begins, Marlee, a white girl, starts middle school right after Labor Day, when schools are normally scheduled to reopen, but her sister, Judy, is stuck at home; their local high school has been closed by state and local governments opposed to the integration of white schools. While the debate about reopening the high schools rages between adults and kids, Marlee finally makes a wonderful friend, Liz, who helps her find her voice. But then, when Liz seems to disappear one day, Marlee takes a hard look at the racial conflict in her community, and her newfound bravery inspires adults to face bigotry head-on.

Is it any good?

THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK is a poignant and age-appropriate book about race relations in the American South around 1958, when Arkansas schools were first integrated. The novel, written from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl who is painfully shy, maintains an intelligent but innocent point of view toward the racial prejudice that afflicted communities at that time. Readers will not only learn a lot about some significant events in the early civil rights movement, they also will really identify with Marlee and Liz's fight to remain friends and change grownups' attitudes. Marlee navigates social issues large and small with courage, and her story is meaningful and memorable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Marlee's relationship with Liz. Is Marlee right to disobey her parents?

  • Marlee is particularly close to her father, but she doesn't always get along with her mom. How do Marlee and her mother learn from each other as the novel progresses?

  • How does Marlee get the courage to speak?

  • Do you think Marlee and Liz will remain friends?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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