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About the Lion's Whiskers

The inspiration for this blog is a traditional folk tale from Ethiopia which illustrates the step-by-step process of learning to be courageous.  Retold by Jennifer Armstrong


A long time ago, a woman in a certain village adopted a boy whose parents had died of a disease.  She had no children herself, and she wanted this boy to love her.  He was not ready to love her, however, as his heart was still grieving for the parents he had lost.  This woman loved him very much already, but she was sad that he would hardly look at her when she gave him his food.  She thought she would ask advice from the wise healer in the next village, and see if there was some magic that could make the child love her.
            “There is a special drink which I can make for you to give the boy,” said the healer.  “When the child drinks it he will love you as his mother.”
            “Please make this for me,” the woman begged.
            The healer raised one finger.  “It is difficult to make.  It requires the whisker of a living lion.”
            The woman felt her heart pound in her chest.  What a fearful task!  “I will get this whisker,” she vowed.
            The next afternoon, she took some meat to a pond where lion tracks had been seen.  She put the meat by the water and hid behind a tree to wait.  Sure enough, at dusk a lion came.  She knew by the way he sniffed the air that he knew she was there, but he was satisfied with the meat and did not bother her.
            The next evening she did the same thing.  The lion sniffed the air, but did not approach her, for he was satisfied with her offering.  The next evening, she did the same thing but did not hide behind the tree.  She crouched on the path where he could see her.  She was very frightened when the lion looked at her, but she did not run away.  Every day she did this, and every day she waited a little bit closer to where the lion ate.  At last, after two months of this, she was placing the meat in front of the lion and waiting just a few feet away.  The lion would eat the meat quickly, his great teeth gleaming in the sunset light, but the woman thought of the boy and she did not run away. 
            After three months there came a night when the woman placed the meat on the ground and did not move.  The lion approached the meat, and sniffed her before eating.  As he lowered his head to the meat, the woman reached out, and plucked one whisker from his cheek.
            The next morning, the woman hurried to the neighboring village to give the wise healer the lion’s whisker.  The healer looked with astonishment at the whisker, and then smiled.  “You now have everything you need to win the boy’s love.”
            “The drink?  You will make the drink?”  the woman asked.
            But the healer put a gentle hand on the woman’s arm.  “You do not need any magic drink.  You have learned how to win the boy’s love, with patience, and with courage, and with a small step every day, and with not running away.”
            And when the woman went home she found that she could think of the boy as a lion, and approach him with the same patience and the same respect.  And eventually, this boy loved her as his own mother.


Please share your children's art with us!  After you tell this story to your kids, please have them make a painting or drawing and then photograph it or scan it and send it to us!  The first ten people to send us their son's or daughter's illustration for the story will win an autographed children's book.