First of all, the usual disclaimer: I know both the writer and the illustrator of this book. As I've explained before, I've been around for a lot longer than I care to think about and know a great many of the creators of the books I review. You will have to take my word for it that I would only review books that I genuinely believe readers of this blog would enjoy reading.
This book also confirms a strongly - held opinion of mine which run counter to the prevailing thought among many publishers. For many the received wisdom is that texts have to be ultra short. Frances Lincoln, happily, don't agree. They publish, for example, the beautiful books produced by Jackie Morris which I reviewed here last time, and are not afraid of text. By this I mean: they are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the parent of the child whose book it is (yes, I'm happy to read a slightly longer story at bedtime) and also to the child (yes, I can sit quiet and listen for more than two minutes at a time if the story is interesting enough).
This tale is a true story. It's about the bringing of a very young giraffe from Africa to Paris and the effect this has both on the giraffe and the people who catch sight of her on her way over the sea and the desert and the countryside to her home in the Jardin des Plantes.
Hofmeyr has a very beautiful, poetic and evocative way of putting things, but the lyricism is never overdone and it's always in words that the youngest child can understand. The last page reads: "Then they stood in silence and looked out over the lights of Paris. And on those evenings, when the air was particularly balmy, all three turned their faces southwards and on the warm air they felt the kiss of Africa."
This is quite a complicated thought, but one that's easily explained. The reader has seen and experienced Zeraffa's journey and can see that she might miss Africa and that the wind coming from the South reminds both the giraffe and her owner that the South was where they came from; where their journey began.
The story is exciting, too. Zeraffa becomes a sensation. Women style their hair to copy the animal; and everyone comes out to see her in her enclosure, La Rotonde. Atir, who brought her on her journey was still with her when she died, many years later and the whole tale is a touching demonstration of love and devotion and care.
The illustrations are typical of Jane Ray's work. Richly coloured, humorously detailed (Zerafa's orange cloak is lovely!) and laid out on the page in a way that brings out what Hofmeyr is saying, they are very beautiful. As a reader, you turn each page expecting another sumptuous surprise and every time, your heart lifts to see that Ray has done it again. The spread which recounts how Paris fell in love with Zeraffa is very funny too. Those giraffe-shaped biscuits, especially, look delicious. I learned from Twitter that there were giraffe-shaped biscuits at the launch of the book, which I believe the author baked herself.
All in all, this is another delightful book from this publisher. Maybe Hofmeyr and Ray can come together again. They are a very good combination. I'm sure this will be a very popular book and one that teachers and parents will be happy to read aloud over and over again.
Title: ZERAFFA GIRAFFA
Written by: Diane Hofmeyr
Illustrated by: Jane Ray
Publisher: Frances Lincoln hbk: £11.99
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