Stories of animal feats that sound as if they can’t possibly be true are always intriguing, and this tale is one that bears repeating.
While several children’s books have been written about the giraffe who sailed across the Mediterranean from Egypt and then walked from Marseilles to Paris, arriving in 1827 after three years, this version is written for a slightly younger age group than the others. In spite of limited details, the telling is lively and largely accords with the known facts. The pasha of Egypt charges his servant Atir, a young man who accompanies the giraffe and lives with her until her death in 1845, with delivering the unusual living present to King Charles X of France. The giraffe inspires all sorts of fashions, biscuits, topiary hedges and hairdos. The author’s note provides background and notes that the building, La Rotunde, constructed to house Zeraffa (in other accounts often called Belle) still exists. Unfortunately, there are no source notes. Whether Louise Marie Thérèse, the king’s granddaughter, really crept out each night to stand with Zeraffa and Atir, staring toward the African continent, is probably a matter of poetic license. The detail-filled paintings, bursting with boats on the Nile, French crowds and the giraffe’s accessories, will draw all eyes during group or individual readings.
Not a tall tale at all but a captivating bit of history. (Picture book. 5-8)