Before the animated movie came out, the original novel it was based on came gained Roger S. Baum(L. Frank Baum's great-grandson)status as a children's book author.
This book acts a prequal to the original Wizard Of Oz book, with the Lion being taken away from Africa as a cub to a circus in Omaha. He grows up in captivity, and is befriended by the balloonist, Oscar Diggs. One day, Oscar gives him a souvenir medal for courage, and takes him on a flight in his balloon, but they end up flying off course to the land of Oz. Lion gets seperated from Oscar whose balloon gets sent blown further away. He's confronted by the Wicked Witch of the West who pretends to have captured Oscar, and threatens Lion with this for him to find the fabled "Flower of Oz" for her. Lion then runs into a trio of fairies who are being attacked by the Witch's minion, Gloom, and then makes his way to Castle Gray. He befriends the strange springy bear-like SillyOZbul, the young girl Wimsik, and her living toys, Caroline and Captain Fitzgerald. They agree to help Lion in his quest, even though Wimsik has never left there. Along the way, they encounter the enigmatic Sign Maker, the wicked Seamstress, and the friendly dragon Burt. They even run across the Wizard of Oz himself(who is actually Oscar), but he doesn't at first recognize Lion as his old friend. In the end, its revealed that Wimsik is the Flower, and she is reinstated as a powerful magic user. Whether this is supposed to mean she's some relation to Ozma is never revealed. Afterwards, Lion is just seen on his own(without any kind of goodbye scene with his newfound friends), and loosing his badge to the Witch. This leads to his historic meeting with Dorothy and the others.
The book offers a good plot, and is enjoyable for anyone whose at least read Wizard Of Oz, although there doesn't seem to be any kind of time elapse between when Lion first lands in Oz and having Oscar instantly becoming the Wizard. Plus they never really show the revelation of Lion discovering that Oscar is the Wizard which never came up in the original WOO book. Sean Coons provides some great illustrations, and helps make it valuable hardcover. I kinda prefer Gregory Maguire's, A Lion Amoung Men, as an origin story for the Lion, but this book is alot better for younger readers. I'd recommend it to all Oz fans and as a fine gift for your children.