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Animal Character, BOOK REVIEWS, Early/Young Readers, NonFiction, Picture Books, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

ZARAFA: THE GIRAFFE WHO WALKED TO THE KING by Judith St. George Illustrated by Britt Spencer


Zarafa is the fascinating true story of a singular giraffe.  In 1827 the King of Egypt, in an effort to improve political relations, sent a giraffe to King Charles X of France as a gift.  This is the story of that giraffe’s journey.

Zarafa was captured at the age of 2 in North Africa.  Too young to travel yet to the capital of Alexandria, she lived in a small village, nurtured and milk-fed by the villagers.  When she was old enough they sailed her down the Nile in a boat built specifically to transport her, along with her keepers, 3 cows to provide her milk and several monkeys to keep her company.

Once in Alexandria, where she was marveled over by the King and the city’s residents, preparations were made for her to sail again.  This time she was to cross the Mediterranean Sea to France.  Her 2 new keepers–Hassan and Atir–cut a hole in the ship’s deck so Zarafa could stand in the hold and still fully extend her neck to breathe fresh air.  They built a small tent on the deck to cover her head.

They arrived in Marseilles in winter so Zarafa had to wait until spring to continue her journey to Paris.  In spring Zarafa and her keepers began the 550-mile walk to Paris.  French citizens lined the streets to see her pass.  She was already a celebrity.  In Paris the king and all the Parisians fell in love with her.  1827 became known in France as The Year of the Giraffe.  Zarafa lived in Paris with her keeper Atir until she died in 1845 at the age of 21.

Judith St. George’s picture-book-telling of Zarafa’s story is easily ready and accessible to all ages in its language.  Britt Spencer’s illustrations are bright and fanciful, keeping the story focused at an approachable level for even the youngest readers due to the fact there is quite a bit of text (40-135 words) per page.

For any reader–young or old– especially those interested in (or obsessed with) giraffes–this is a fascinating read!


FYI:  If you want more information, PBS Nature Documentaries has an excellent selection titled Tall Blondes, available in most libraries.  The narrator has an adult nonfiction book of the same name if you are interested in reading more in-depth about the giraffes.  I highly recommend both the Tall Blondes book AND the PBS Nature film!


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