Animal Friends

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A trio of books about animal welfare and friendship for Books # 30-32 in The There’s a Book Read to Me Picture Book Challenge.

Hey! Get Off our Train by John Burningham.

This is a witty story with a deep message. A little boy is hustled to bed by his mother and as he leaves his train set and falls asleep he finds himself, with his faithful pyjama case dog, manning the toy train and setting out on a world trip. Along the way they will encounter an elephant, a seal, a tiger and a number of other endangered animals that all want to climb aboard, pleading the dangers they are facing as their need to board the train.

“Please let me come with you on your train. Someone is coming to cut off my tusks, and soon there will be none of us left.”

With a poetic and humerous style and with dusky, grey and pastel shades, Burningham gives this call to help these animals. The end leaves one questioning is it dream or reality. I think a great springboard for discussion with 4-7 year olds about what is being done, and what we can do, to help these species.


Bill and Pete by Tomie de Paola.

Another author illustrator with a giggly, funny story and a serious message.  I don’t think I have read a single one of Tomie’s books that I haven’t enjoyed. William Everett (what an awesome name!), the Nile crocodile, is big enough to choose his own toothbrush and Pete, the toothbrush (bird), soon becomes his best friend. After some wonderfully, witty kindergarten scenes, crisis hits when a suitcase vendor from Cairo abducts William (Bill). I’ll let you imagine who saves the day.  The colours are bright, the illustrations simple and the crocodile grins will have you beaming.  If you haven’t read this one, I highly recommend it, as it always has kids laughing. There is a great sequel too, if you are borrowing this from the library.

Owen and Mzee The Language of Friendship told by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Dr Paula kahumbu with photographs by Peter Greste.

This is a sequel to the NY Times #1 bestseller the True Story of Owen and Mzee.

In the heart of Kenya in 2004 a frightened young hippo, separated from his mother by the devastating Tsunami in Southeast Asia, adopted an ancient 130-year-old Aldabra Tortoise as his “mother”.  This old tortoise, that had always been a loner, accepted the baby hippo as his own child.  This book takes the reader through the inseparable pair’s first year together.  During this beautiful and unexpected friendship they seem to develop their own “language” of soft sounds and gestures, to the complete lack of comprehension of zoologists and zoo keepers.  The sounds are typical to neither species. Such a bond between a reptile and a mammal was pretty much unheard of in wildlife circles and it is hard to believe the relationship they have developed. At times Owen, the hippo, can be observed licking Mzee’s face or Mzee resting his head on Owen’s stomach. Eventually a third companion is introduced and the young tortoise, Toto, seems to get on well with the famous twosome. When Owen is fully-grown he could weigh up to 7000 pounds and it is unknown if he could harm his friends unintentionally. The book ends with some more details about Kenya and the Haller Park, where these orphans and others are cared for. The photos will have all adults and children “ahing”, I think. The latest information I could find suggests that early attempts to introduce Owen to an orphaned, female hippo, Cleo, are moving along just fine and there are hopes of babies in the future. Isn’t reading about such friendship a great way to start the day?




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13 Responses to Animal Friends

  1. Wonderful books again, Joanna — the story of Owen and Mzee blows me away! Especially the thought of them developing a new “language” with which to communicate with each other. That is awe-inspiring.

    To my astonishment, our public library system actually has the Owen and Mzee books, as well as a picture book by another author entitled “A Mama for Owen”. I suspect there will be a review appearing on my blog in the near future…

    • Joanna says:

      I just love this story, Beth. What a depth of feeling Owen and Mzee must have to have created this bond. I look forward to further reviews on these special friends.

  2. Lori says:

    We love Owen and Mzee too! I have not seen “Hey! Get Off My Train”- I’ll have to check it out.

    In answer to your comment: I do get to read to my grand-kids occasionally. My granddaughter especially loves books.

    I always enjoy your selections.

  3. Joanna says:

    Hi Lori, I am always on the lookout for books about endangered animals and Burningham’s is great. I hope one day, to add my own stories to the pool.

  4. Patricia Tilton says:

    So happy to see you reviewed Owen and Mzee — gave the books to my grandson for Christmas, along with a hippo and tortoise. He collects animal figures. I adore this incredible friendship and have seen a number of flim clips on TV.

    I think it is quite interesting that phenomenons like this occur. Last week I saw a story on TV about a Canadian Goose that had laid eggs and a deer that came to protect the nest, when the goose left. Most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. When the goose leaves, the deer simply lays down next to the nest. Doesn’t upset the goose at all. All I could think — there’s a story there.

    I have read many Tommie de Paolo books, but not Bill and Pete. Still have some of my daughter’s autographed copies of classics. I am a sucker for his books — will have to check it out. And your first book, Hey Get of Our Train!, I’ve never heard of. Sounds like a good discussion book for young children.

    Great selection!

    • Joanna says:

      What an adorable story about a Canadian Goose and deer. As with Owen and Mzee, these are not instinctive relationships – but I do think they show an instinct of care and/or parenting toward the weak. There is so much we don’t know about the range of emotions/responses animals share with humans.

  5. Diane says:

    My heart melted hearing of Owen and Mzee The Language of Friendship. I have never heard of that story but I am a sucker for animal stories that are so endearing and have such a beautiful story.
    I can imagine Bill and Pete to be such an amusing picture book since it is one of Tomie de Paola’s. He has penned over 200 books and there are about 15 million copies of his books world wide. I have a lovely video clip of him at the 2009 BEA where he was introduced to speak during the Children’s Book Breakfast by non other than the lovely Julie Andrews. He is quite a character. Thankyou for the lovely insight into these beautiful books.

  6. Joanna says:

    You know, i think I may have seen that clip of Julie introducing Tomie. We have a video in the school library of an interview with Tomie at his home/studio, discussing the process of his work. I too am a huge fan, though some of my real favourites are his Italian stories. In these he really reveals his roots. Actually I plan on reviewing a bunch of his books soon.

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