Berlie Doherty


Abela – The Girl Who Saw Lions

Abela – The Girl Who Saw Lions by Berlie Doherty

Hardback: Andersen Press 2007. ISBN 978-1842706893 • Paperback: Anderson Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1842707258

Click to buy Abela – The Girl Who Saw Lions from Amazon UK: hardbackpaperback • Kindle edition

An involving, moving and above all, relevant novel that ought to be in every school library and put into the hands of as many children as possible.

Adele Geras, The Guardian

A touching and well-told story.

Publishing News

The story is intensely moving and gripping – when I was half-way through I just couldn’t put it down and read solidly until I got to the end!


Well-written, with very real characters, this latest Doherty title is a heart-breaking yet ultimately hopeful examination of HIV/Aids, child trafficking and adoption’

Abela was a ‘season highlight’ in the Bookseller Guide

If God listened to songs, he would surely hear hers, he would see the golden stream of her voice and listen to the words that floated inside it.

Simba the lionAbela – The Girl Who Saw Lions, is actually the story of two girls. One lives in Tanzania, the orphaned child of a family stricken with HIV/Aids. When her uncle sends her to England, her grandmother thinks she is going to a better life; but he is involved in child trafficking and Abela faces a bleak future as an asylum seeker. Her mother’s dying words to her had been ‘Be strong, my Abela, be strong,’ and this inspires her with the courage to survive.


Abela – The Girl Who Saw Lions won and was shortlisted for many awards, including the Blue Peter award. And I got a Blue Peter badge!

The other girl is Rosa, who lives in Sheffield with her mother. They do everything together, including learning to skate at IceSheffield. Rosa can’t imagine anything changing in her life, until one day her mother tells her she is thinking of adopting another child. Rosa is devastated. “What if I had said to her, ‘I’m thinking of adopting another mother?’”

Ultimately, Abela is a story of love, understanding and hope, as both girls strive to overcome their childhood sorrows.

Abela – The Girl Who Saw Lions is also published by Whole Story Audio Books as an unabridged audio book. Click to order direct from the publisher: CDsdownload.

Listen to an excerpt:

Imbyai ParsalauMy inspiration for Abela came when I visited Tanzania some time ago and was struck by the beauty of the people, the animals, and the landscape I knew I wanted to write about it. I was encouraged by two VSO workers to tackle the subject of HIV/Aids in Africa. I have also been interested in the subject of adoption for many years, having been a social worker in a family placement unit in Leicestershire at the beginning of my working life. I have written about adoption (The Snake-stone) and orphans (Street Child) before, and know they are sensitive and delicate subjects to write about, but in Abela I have been inspired by a different landscape to research and write an even more ambitious novel. I’m indebted to the many people who talked to me along the way.

Foreign editions

Click here for details of foreign editions of Abela – The Girl Who Saw Lions.

Two quotes from children in South Africa:

“I enjoyed reading this book because it made me feel like I was Abela for a day. Abela was a strong girl, she knew almost everything that I did not know in life. She overruled things that even an adult did not know. It was like I was a readaholic after I read Abela so thank you to the author of Abela.”

“I loved reading Abela – I even stopped watching TV and seeing my friends.”

Writing tip

I couldn’t have written Abela without referring to the photos I took and the journal I wrote during my visit to Tanzania. I always write a diary when I’m away on holiday or visiting another country for work. Maybe you could do this too – a new landscape, with all its unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells, tastes and impressions, could be a great source of inspiration to you in your writing.

Work in schools

I hope young people will engage with each of the two central characters in the story. It is difficult for European children to have any real concept of the effect of Aids in the African continent. Millions of people die of Aids there – and eleven million African children are Aids orphans. Such numbers are difficult for children to grasp, but fiction can bring such truths close to our hearts by helping us to identify with a particular child. Abela is a made-up character, but she could be real, easily. She is lost in the world, homeless, orphaned, penniless, but with a will to survive. I hope this situation would engage any child reader, whatever their circumstances.

Rosa, too, is a made-up character, but could be real. She lives in a one-parent family and has a very close relationship with her mother. She wants to do everything with her, she doesn’t really want to get any older (I have deliberately cast her as ‘young for her age’) and she can’t bear the thought of anyone else entering into this tiny family unit. During the course of the novel she grows up a lot, becomes aware of her mother’s needs, and is able to look outside herself to the plight of children in far less fortunate situations. I hope readers will make this journey with her.

I don’t really see this as a book for Primary-aged children. Children are much more aware of what is going on in the world than they used to be, but I still feel that we can’t expect children to reach emotional maturity any earlier than they ever did. I would see this as a book for children of 12+. The novel covers many important ideas – Aids, immigration, adoption, child trafficking, children’s rights, and more.

There is a great deal to explore and discuss and my hopes for the novel are that it will be read and appreciated on two levels – one as a story about the different lives of two girls, and of whether they will ever get to meet, and the other as a platform for discussion and social awareness, giving young readers the opportunity to explore, absorb and understand lives and situations that are very different from their own.

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