Jun 19, 2014

Owen and Mzee

the Language of Friendship
by Isabella and Craig Hatkoff with Dr. Paula Kahumbu

In 2004, a young hippo was found in trouble after a tsunami struck Southeast Asia with widespread aftermath. The hippo was rescued and taken to a wildlife park in Kenya. To everyone's surprise, the hippo named Owen befriended a 130-year-old male tortoise, Mzee. The animals became inseparable, with Owen following the Mzee around and copying what the tortoise ate. The two became protective of each other. Even more remarkable, they seemed to develop some basic communication, using sounds that tortoises and hippos normally don't make. But eventually the park managers faced a difficult decision: would Owen and Mzee need to be separated? Owen was adopting habits and a diet not usual for hippos, and when he grew larger could probably injure Mzee. He needed to learn that he was a hippo. The book closes with change looming at hand: with another young hippo elsewhere needing a companion, plans were in the works to move Owen.

I wish I could give this book a higher rating, it certainly is an incredible story. But for some reason it all falls a bit short with me. The writing style is aimed at younger readers and rather simple. (I am sure having three authors doesn't help, I'm always a bit standoffish to books with more than one author for some reason). The part about their interspecies communication, which I was most intrigued by, was actually very brief. There is not much meat here; I am actually wondering what this book includes that the first one didn't. I am sure there will be a third installment, but I'd really rather wait until someone writes a book ten years down the road that tells the entire story in more detail. The part I actually liked most was reading in the end about how Dr. Haller (who established the wildlife park the two animals lived in) works to rehabilitate old abandoned limestone quarries, restoring the forest at those sites so wildlife can live there again. I'd like to read more about that.

The story of Owen and Mzee has definitely caught the attention of many. There are already three books illustrated with photographs by Isabella and her father, plus two picture books by different authors.

Rating: 3/5      36 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Esther's Roost
Bottom Shelf Books

1 comment:

Susan Bybee said...

I liked the pictures a lot more than the text. Used the book as a supplement to a unit on "Friendship" a few years ago.