Cover Image: The Lion Above the Door

The Lion Above the Door

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Member Reviews

The month of Remembrance Day, Veterans Day, and Armistice Day felt like an appropriate one for Sophie to read The Lion Above the Door by Onjali Q. Raúf, a middle-grade novel that looks at not only how we remember past conflicts, but also who gets to be remembered.

Leo and his best friend Sangeeta are Year Four pupils at their primary school in southern England where they are also some of the only children of color. Their class is working on the topic of World War Two and both the children notice that none of the photographs in their history books are of people who look like them, nor do any of the heroes discussed there have similar names. However, on a field trip to Rochester Cathedral, Leo spots something incredible. Inside is a wall dedicated to soldiers from all over the former British Empire and included there is his exact name, along with many others – some sharing Sangeeta’s surname, Singh.

Leo vows to include his namesake’s story in the class project, one that has a chance to be shown on national TV, but no matter how hard he tries, he struggles to learn anything about the man. It seems as if all the men and women on the memorial war have been left out of the history books. He, Sangeeta, and a few allies come up with a cunning plan to make sure the heroes aren’t forgotten, but can they overcome red tape, family tensions, and other people determined to see them fail?

Sophie absolutely loved The Lion Above the Door which handled the sensitive topic of race and racism in history perfectly. Leo experiences the impact of racism in many different ways – from direct name-calling by classmates to the missing chapters in a history book and to his own family’s attitude to those around them – and although this is hard to read, it is also eye-opening to see how the many micro-aggressions he encounters every day have formed what he calls an invisible bruise inside him. She also appreciated that not everything falls into place perfectly by the end, as can sometimes happen in middle-grade books. Not everyone learns the error of their ways by the end, just as they don’t in real life.

Despite handling a heavy topic, this was a fun book that captured young friendship and the feeling of being back at primary school. With a pair of instantly relatable characters and a well-fleshed-out supporting cast too, Sophie found this to be one of the best middle-grade books she has read this year.
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I read this book over the last few days. Very fitting due to the Remembrance theme. A timely reminder that when all those people lay wreaths at the cenotaph they are remembering those for many many countries. Leo, Sangeeta and Olivia  are likeable and characters to whom it is easy to relate. They own battle with school and looking and feeling different will resonate with so many and their determination to honour those who  have been forgotten  and left out of history is admirable and will enthuse young and old alike to do the same. Although hopefully in a more “ legal” way which does not involve getting in to so much trouble! Thought provoking, entertaining, educational and a must read  for all.
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Leo and Sangeeta live in a small Kentish village where not many people look like them, so they are surprised to find Leo’s exact name on a war memorial in Rochester Cathedral on their school trip, along with other names from different parts of the world.  When their class is chosen to present their Remembrance Day project on the main display board in their school, and is entered into a competition on a popular television show, they decide to find out more about the stories behind the wartime contribution of the people commemorated.  Sangeeta has little trouble finding out about the part played by Indian participants, especially the role of the women in whom she is particularly interested, but Leo has a harder job finding out about his namesake.   He knows only that his great grandfather wanted him to be called Leo, but why is a mystery to his extended family.
With an unlikely ally from school, Leo and Sangeeta try to find out more, but their desperate and unorthodox methods get them into trouble and Leo begins to despair of finding the truth.
This is a beautifully written heart-warming novel about close knit families that really care about each other, and the great things that can happen when people work together.  It is a great reminder that the world wars affected people across the globe and that heroic acts from members of all nations should be celebrated and more widely known.  What I especially loved about this book is the genuine warmth of the family relationships enjoyed by the three main characters and the enduring friendships that develop.  A true gem of a book.
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When Leo and Sangeeta go on a class trip to Rochester cathedral, Leo spots a name on one of the war memorials that is identical to his own. He begins to wonder about the “real” Leo - who he was and what he did during the war. When the class embark on a project following on from the trip, they decide to focus on the forgotten heroes of the war - which includes soldiers from Asia and Africa.

As the children embark on their research they find that there isn’t much written in the history books so they enlist the help of their families and relatives around the world.

Racism is an important element in the book. Leo and Sangeeta are bullied by some members of the class and told to “go home”. Leo frequently refers to being different and talks about people who look like him. The author has not shied away from this difficult subject but has tackled it head on. The subject they choose for the project, “forgotten heroes” allows the children in the class to research real people, regardless of their ethnic background, which shows inclusivity.

This is, on the surface, a great story about a school project, and the scrapes they get into along the way. However it would also be a fantastic vehicle for discussing with children the way people are treated and the casual racism found too often in schools.

I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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A great story sprinkled with great descriptions and atmospheric scenes
Loved the descriptions, so many of them. 
Onjali Rauf has created a middle grade of brilliant ambiance that readers of all ages can enjoy and finish with new found hope in their heart and desire for more of the same genre.
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A wonderful book for older primary age children exploring racism. It has a timely topic about the missing figures and cultures that fought in WW2, areas that are too often missing in the history curriculum taught in schools. I loved the main characters and think lots of children will identify with Leo and Sangeeta.
Thanks to netgalley, the author and publisher for an arc of this book.
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Onjali Rauf has released another mesmerising book! I was so  excited when i got my hands on this book and needless to say I was not disappointed in the slightest! It had me laughing and crying! 

Leo and Sangeeta are living in the UK but of Singaporean descent. This is a truly powerful novel that touches on courage, friendship, tolerance (or lack there of)  history and racism and all of the forgotten people in history (because they had an ethnic name.

Rauf’s ability to write fascinating characters is unapparelled, the way she touches on subject matters that no one really wants to deal with in a thoughtful way is superb! 

So many children have experienced some form of racism here in the UK. I know I did! I wish there were writers like Rauf back then, I am glad that there are now!

Thank you for this ARC
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Another great read from Onjali! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book; from the very beginning I became attached to the characters and the relationships they had with each other. Would definitely recommend this book
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A story set in a primary school that looks at friendship,  bullying, racism and World War II. A middle grade book suited to primary school age pupils.
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Leo and Sangeeta stand out from their class because of their skin colour and culture – and at times they are bullied because of this. Leo’s Dad says they need to be on their best behaviour at all times and he seems willing to tolerate the racism; the accumulated effect of prejudice leaves Leo feeling emotionally (and sometimes physically) bruised. On a class trip an RAF museum, Leo sees pictures of heroes like the ones in the history books – no one who looks like him. But on that same trip, he sees a commemoration stone of an RAF hero who had the exact same name as him –Leo Kai Lim. So begins the quest to find out more about this hero and others like him. The TV series Real Kidz Rule Remembrance Day competition seems exactly the right forum to tell these forgotten heroes’ stories.

This is a powerful novel exploring courage, friendship, historical/current racism and forgotten histories. As always with Rauf’s novels, her protagonists are interesting, determined and willing to learn. Some of the scenes are hilarious – the accidental setting off of the flight simulator incident is superb – and other scenes will make you cry (no spoilers, but red paint and family connections around the world are involved).

This novel will also make you think carefully about ignored heroes that students should be learning about. As a History & English teacher, I have a chance to transform the curriculum to eliminate cultural blind-spots, and to celebrate all contributions to our shared human experience.

Highly recommended for Year 4+; eminently suitable as a read aloud for Year 7’s.
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Onjali Q Rauf's loyal fanbase will be pleased to hear of a new novel. True to form, the Lion Above the Door explores important social issues while capturing voices from the younger generation in a most relatable manner.

The story broaches the topic of cultural blindspots in history education, posing questions about the missing and ignored figures from the history topics taught in schools. Young Leo is intrigued to find a WW2 memorial in which he recognises his own name; being of Singaporean heritage he has become used to rarely seeing people like himself reflected in the history books. As Leo and his classmates research their relatives' roles in the war, important stories come to surface and it's up to the children to make sure these histories get the spotlight they deserve.

This is a sincere and timely story that gently turns over themes of prejudice, cultural underrepresentation, racism and the courage to put right societal injustice - while at once holding out the mantle to young readers to invite them to be the catalyst for change.

Many thanks to the publisher for sending us an early copy for review. This book is featured on our Autumn 2021 Ones to Watch selection:
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Onjali Q Rauf has, this time, tapped into the fact that in this country the history of WW1/2 taught to our children is predominantly that of a white history. I knew about soldiers from the Commonwealth that helped the British during the wars, however, the degree to which some countries were involved has not been acknowledged. 

The story follows Leo, a boy whose parents came to live in England before he was born from Singapore.  The fact that he is British makes no difference to the school bullies.  He describes the feeling of a bruise inside him that hurts whenever something bad happens.  He is angry when his dad witnesses these events and doesn't say anything.  His friend Sangeeta, has the same problem. Together they also have friends called Nancy and Drew.
On a school trip, which the bullies don't go on as they haven't returned their slip, he finds 'his' name above the door of a Cathedral on a memorial, and Sangeeta finds the name R Singh.  This begins an adventure to find out about those that gave their lives for Britain and the allies during the war.  They are joined in their quest by Olivia, who reveals that despite her white skin she is mixed race and her Dad family originate from Ghana and her Great Grandfather is one of those forgotten heroes.  The fact that Olivia is not afraid of Toby and Catherine helps Leo and his friends. 
In the background of the " Forgotten Heroes" theme is the children's treatment at the hands of Toby and Catherine. Do the bullies succeed or can the children emulate Leo's dad who explains that if he acted the same way he would be lowering himself to their level and he isn't that type of person and never will be. 
I loved this book and will be attempting to get it into school.
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This book was captivating, and I could not put it down!  I was spell bound, yet again, by Onjali Rauf’s storytelling.  I became a companion of Leo and his best friend Sangeeta, on their journey, who feel like the odd ones out in their small town and school.  Whilst on a school trip to a local cathedral, they notice the names of war heroes. They then embark on a mission to find out the story behind the names (especially as Leo’s name is one of them).  Beautifully written, this book reinforces the vital importance of representation in historical sources. I cannot wait to share this book with students and colleagues.

Thank you NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Onjali Q Rauf has written another excellent children’s novel. Similarly to her previous stories she has the skill of capturing the voices of the young protagonists without being patronising and conveying their hopes and fears in a truly realistic manner. All of her books make the reader reflect on how children and adults interact and respect one another from different faults and heritage. The Lion Above The Door is an important book in so many ways as it draws attention to the “forgotten  and ignored” people who gave their lives to fight with the allies  in WWII. On a school visit Leo sees a memorial carved with his name and then begins his journey to discover who this person was and ultimately the role they played in World War II as Malayan fighter pilot over Europe. Along with his friends Sanghetta and Olivia , they begin to research their relatives roles in the war against the backdrop of a class assembly and television programme being filmed in school. Racism within the class is not avoided. The story is much like a detective story as the children research their families.  The relationship between Leo and his father is powerful as in Leo’ s eyes his father doesn’t appear to fight back against prejudice ( particularly living in an English countryside village community)but as the story moves forward the two come together  in their understanding. In a world where nationalism is rising and history is being exploited by certain groups to often build a white-centric vision of the past ,this book is so important and the story is shared so that younger generations finally peel away the blinkered view / perspective of historical events .This is a book I will be highly recommending to my colleagues in KS 2 and also for learners/ readers to enjoy . Another winner.
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Another triumph from an incredible writer. Onjali Rauf has done it again. It sounds cliched to say “I laughed, I cried” but I genuinely laughed out loud whilst reading, got choked up by the emotional ending, and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. It’s safe to say that I loved it. 
Leo, a boy living in the UK but of Singaporean descent, cannot see anyone who looked like him when studying World War 2- all the names sound like British royalty, and he feels like his ancestry are lesser to his classmates. Until, he spots a name on the cathedral wall honouring the soldiers from WW2, and not just any name- his own name. Suddenly, Leo wants to know, who was this soldier, what is his story, and could he have been named after this Leo? The race is on, especially as his class have been chosen to prepare an assembly and display board which might even make it onto TV. Can he find out the information in time, to make everyone remember a forgotten hero? 
A story that deals with racism, and the lived experiences of many children here in the UK, in a sensitive but insightful way, and delivers a hopeful and inspirational message.
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Leo finds himself best friends with Sangetta simply because they are the only two non white faces in their small village. While Sangetta is bold and quick to express her opinion, Leo holds back, keeping his head down to avoid being noticed by the class bully Toby and his gang. Incidents go unreported to teachers as Leo’s experience is that the bullying is not addressed nor punished.
The class has been on school trips to the local farm, but this year it is announced that they will be travelling further afield to an RAF museum and onto a cathedral. Excitement abounds, mainly because of the plans for which sweets each will be buying in the gift shop at the end.
Leo has begun to notice that all the men mentioned who fought in the war were often called George, or perhaps William, but never Asian sounding names. He concludes that no Asian ever became a hero if they fought at all.
At first the museum seems to back this up, but then he spots his own name - not just Leo, but his whole name, above the door complete with a majestic lion and the initials DFC. The museum curator explains that stands for Distinguished Flying Cross, a medal awarded for bravery. Leo is transfixed.
A chance to bring this hero and other forgotten heroes to wider notice galvanises Leo, Sangetta and rather surprisingly the cool girl Olivia, but an act of sabotage by the bully appears to destroy all their hard work.
The injustices in this book raised my hackles, as was intended. Children will see the unfairness in this. I was amazed that no one ‘told’ on the bully, but that is peer pressure code. Much to ponder on and discuss.
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