Review: My Mum Is a Lioness by Swapna Haddow, illustrated by Dapo Adeola

Comic, colourful and full of charisma, My Mum Is a Lioness, from award winners Swapna Haddow and Dapo Adeola, is the second title in a joyful picture book series featuring a wildly imaginative child and his loving nuclear family.

Similar to the riotous My Dad Is a Grizzly Bear (2021), this time it's Mum who sparks our young narrator's imagination, as he tries to convince us that she's, in fact, a ravenous, carnivorous predator of the feline variety.

Haddow's witty and warm, lighthearted text, with occasional repetition, is enjoyable to read, using a rich selection of verbs and adjectives to describe Mum's behaviour. And although, at times, the storyline feels familiar due to knowledge of the prequel, coming to this text completely afresh will undoubtedly make for hilarious shared reading with children in Reception and Year 1. 

That said, there's plenty that's new in this book as readers see the family in different scenarios and settings, such as jogging in the local park and watching a talent show at school. Additionally, Haddow introduces new characters from outside of the immediate family group. We briefly meet Grandpa and, let's not forget, the 'aunties' — a multiethnic troop of 'mummy friends' who our protagonist aptly names Mum's 'pride'. Haddow's inclusion of the aunties feels relatable and authentic as it's customary in many Black and Asian communities to refer to adult women as 'aunts', even if they're not your relatives. 

Adeola's lively, characterful illustrations, with interesting perspectives, are full of delightful observational humour. A particular highlight was Mum's 'basting' of her son in cocoa butter — a knowing nod to the importance many Black people place on routinely moisturising their skin. As Adeola shows the boy similarly basting his little sister in the same image, he brilliantly portrays how this longstanding tradition is handed down through the generations.

Adeola is skilled at blending fantasy with reality to capture a child's imaginative mindset. For example, in one vignette, we see Mum the lioness 'hunting' for new prey (the boy's sister) while carrying her fresh 'kill' underarm. But, on closer inspection, Mum's 'kill' is, in fact, a yellow sleepsuit intended to dress the toddler for bed. Clever little visual deceptions like these add surprising and fun layers of meaning to the story. 

Mum is indeed like a lioness. She's an energetic, hardworking, multitasking powerhouse who often needs more than all four limbs — she manipulates her 'lioness tail' with super agility — to carry out a multitude of chores simultaneously. And, despite her loud roars and fierce-looking hefty paws, in truth she's simply a kind, caring, devoted parent who sometimes takes time out for socialising and personal grooming while Dad sorts the dishes and the shopping.

A cheerful, warmhearted inclusive story that would make a great Mother's Day treat. It's a glorious tribute to mums everywhere! 

My Mum Is a Lioness by Swapna Haddow, illustrated by Dapo Adeola, is available now from Bookshop.

Check out my Black Children's Books directory for suggested suitability of all the books I review.  All the books that I read are also checked against my Jericho Benchmark.