Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Owen & Mzee, The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella and Craig Hatkoff

Owen & Mzee tells the heartwarming story of a friendship that results after the 2004 Tsunami in Kenya. The inseparable duo first meet when Owen, a baby hippo is stranded. As villagers work tirelessly to rescue Owen, Mzee, a 130-year-old tortoise, "adopts" the young hippo. From that moment on Owen and Mzee become acquainted with one another at the animal santuary and stay by each other's side day in and day out.

These are a few of the questions that I had after reading this story:
  • Why did the authors decide to write about Owen and Mzee?
  • How did they know of their bond in Kenya?

While trying to find these answers, I found in a review by Publisher's Weekly. The review stated that a photograph of the two was published in newspapers about a month after the tsunami. "Craig Hatkoff and his then six-year old daughter, moved by that image and the accompanying article, decided to learn more about these animal-companions-and to write their story."

The photographs of Owen and Mzee detail each of the events and emotions involved throughout their journey. Photographer Peter Greste incorporates full page spreads of Owen's trying transport to the sanctuary. Photos also demonstrate Owen's immediate movement toward Mzee once arrivng there - "Owen crouched behind Mzee, the way baby hippos often hide behind their mothers for protection." While the illustrations depict the heartfelt emotions of the pair, the text allows readers to closely follow just how remarkable yet suprising the bond truly is between the two of them. Illustrations throughout the story detail the daily activities of cuddling, swimming, and playing around with one another. "Most wildlife experts have never heard of a mammal and a reptile forming such a strong bond."

The story of Owen and Mzee just goes to show how during life's most trying times, it's the people (or animals) in this case, that help us survive it and move on. Even though there were differences between Owen and Mzee, that did not stop them in surrendering their love for one another and forming a mother-son relationship that continues to exist today. I was surprised yet pleased that these two would create this relationship. I believe that children who read this story will be glad that Owen was able to find a mother to care for him, as well as Mzee having a son to take care of. Once reading this book, students will be inclined to read the follow-ups that tell of their first year together and the unique "language" that they created to communicate. UNREAL!

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