Henry & Leo


  • Henry & Leo
  • written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
  • published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

“I guess we can never really know what makes one particular toy more special than another.”

Henry & Leo is a beautiful ode to the love we all have for our stuffed friends and what happens when they accidentally take a wrong turn and get lost. (We read another recent book on this same topic, which is admittedly near and dear to our hearts.)

This is the story of Henry and his favorite toy in the whole world – a stuffed lion named Leo.  Henry and Leo go everywhere together and are inseparable…until the day they are separated during a walk in the woods.


Henry is worried about Leo and is convinced that he’ll be scared on his own in the woods all night. The rest of his family try to convince Henry that Leo isn’t real and only lives in his imagination. But Henry knows better.

“Henry knew that his family just didn’t understand what it truly meant to be real. . . . They loved each other. They took care of each other. That’s real.”

About half of the book is composed of double-page, wordless spreads of Zagarenski’s breathtaking art. We follow along with Leo’s adventures in the woods with the animals he meets and how he eventually finds his way back to Henry.

Just like in her previous book, The Whisper, Zagarenski chooses to let the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. Children can tell the story of what happens to Leo in the woods and use their imagination to create dialogue. And her art has so much depth, detail, and fantasy that it begs to be explored further.

An interesting artistic choice is that each character that is imbued with “life” has a faint crown floating about his or her head. It was slightly confusing to my kids until they noticed that Leo and the other animals had crowns when they “came to life” and weren’t around humans.

Henry & Leo is a fantastic story about the power of imagination and the importance of friendship…and stuffed animals. Highly recommended.


(Disclosure: HMH provided me with a review copy of this book. All opinions remain my own.)

Jamie is a publishing/book nerd who makes a living by wrangling words together into some sense of coherence. He's the founder and owner of The Roarbots and also a contributor to Syfy Wire, StarWars.com, and GeekDad. On top of that, he hosts The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, which celebrates creativity in popular culture, science, and technology by talking to a wide variety of people who contribute to it.