CLARA by Emily Arnold McCully


The (Mostly) True Story of the Rhinoceros Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists, and Won the Hearts of Everyone...While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent!
Age Range: 5 - 8
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An orphaned rhinoceros, acquired by a Dutch sea captain in India, captivates 18th-century Europe during her 17-year continental tour.

Capt. Van der Meer orders Clara hoisted onto his ship for the voyage around the Cape of Good Hope. The rhino eats hay, drinks water, and “adore[s] oranges and beer.” Fish oil is used to lubricate her hide. Once home in Holland, the captain plots logistics for Clara’s “grand tour.” McCully portrays a developing bond between Clara and her keeper, who “looked deep into his rhino’s eyes and felt calm. Clara might have been homely on the outside, but she had a beautiful soul.” The Prussian king, Frederick the Great, helps fund the tour, but Clara’s 5,000-pound appetite proves financially challenging. Louis XV dismisses the captain from Versailles when Clara’s not proffered as a gift for his menagerie. Paris is mad for Clara, though: she inspires composers, poets, sculptors, painters, scientists, and even hairdressers and dressmakers, as styles à la rhinocéros become the rage. McCully’s delicately inked watercolors span double-page spreads for expansive scenes, including one for Clara’s death. Smaller spots portray vignettes, as when Clara sprouts, then loses her horn. Oranges—so enticing to Clara—recur as a motif throughout. Endpapers map the sea and land journeys, and McCully’s note provides historical context for what would be considered an inhumane display today.

For all its problematic nature, a sweetly portrayed relationship. (author’s note, resources) (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 7th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-553-52246-4
Page count: 40pp
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2016


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