A resolute zebra proves that the color of his stripes doesn’t determine his value in this illustrated picture book.
Zen the Zebra loves to run, and he’s so fast that he constantly brags how he can beat all the other animals in a race. The lions know they don’t stand a chance at catching him, and while the cheetahs give it their best shot, even they can’t keep up with the zebra. Out of competitors, Zen decides to find some zebras to race, outpacing several predators along the way. But when he finds a zebra herd, which includes an improbably pink-maned mare whom no one discriminates against because of her odd coloring, the members all ignore Zen because he is white-and-black (his hooves are white) rather than black-and-white (their hooves are black). Zen is properly confused by this arbitrary difference, and to prove his worth, he challenges the whole herd to a race, giving the group a head start. The superfast Zen easily beats his rivals, but rather than lording it over them the way he gloated early on in the book, he offers his hoof in friendship after the black-and-white zebra leader admits “we are the ones who are inferior.” He then asks Zen for speed training. Tellem (Krazy Kathleen, 2016, etc.) touches on some excellent topics, particularly in his depiction of the zebras’ arbitrary racism. But while Zen’s arrogance is backed by his skill, this trait is never particularly admirable. And though he easily forgives a slight, there’s no development on his part that shows his growth from boasting to understanding. In addition, the only female character—the pink-maned zebra—has no role other than to be the animal Zen most wants to impress. The vocabulary is appropriate for young independent readers, but the shifts in type size and some odd placement of the text on the spread where Zen eludes various predators may confuse audiences. Despite those flaws, children are sure to be drawn to Nailon’s (Of Course I Love You!, 2013, etc.) vivid African creatures and landscapes. And the tale’s overarching theme of friendship and forgiveness triumphing over racism remains a strong one.
For school libraries serving diverse communities, this vibrant animal allegory set in Africa should be a hit.