Monday, July 18, 2016
Clara, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 6 and up
The entire title of this enjoyable animal tale is Clara: The (Mostly) True Story of the Rhinoceros Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists, and Won the Hearts of Everyone ... While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent!" I think I made the right decision to put it here at the beginning rather than at the title of this post!
It is a great description for this new book written by the prolific and always thoughtful Emily Arnold McCully. Reading two books about the ethical treatments of animals (Clara's Grand Tour, Ridley and Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human, Hess) led her to want to share Clara's story with her readers. Those children who love animals will admire the storytelling, and want to tell their friends about it.
It happened almost three hundred years ago. Clara was much admired by the many who saw her as she travelled with her caregiver, Captain Douwe Mout van der Meer. The captain had a genuine interest in sharing Clara with an audience and spending his days with her. It was not an easy task to trek from place to place with a growing rhinoceros. She ate more than 100 pounds of food and gained 20 pounds each and every day. Think of the carriers needed to move such an ever-changing animal from one place to another! Yet, they did it. The captain was willing to do anything for her, and Clara seemed to return the love he showed her. At a time when a rhinoceros was thought to be 'monstrous' and 'frightful', Clara was living proof that it was not the case.
Few people had even seen a rhinoceros in the mid-eighteenth century. Royalty was as entranced with seeing Clara as were their loyal subjects. For seventeen years the people of Europe were thrilled to have the chance to get up close to her. Clara seemed equally happy to let them. Painters wanted to paint her, the navy named a ship after her, and people came in large numbers to see her at every stop on the tour.
Ms. McCully admits that she had to imagine some parts of her story; her genuine concern for being as accurate as possible is to be admired. She includes new learning about the rhinoceros itself, while also showing much about the sailing ships, their cargo and their routes. Her pen and watercolor artwork transports her audience back in time and brings awareness to the conventions of its historical setting. A list of resources and two maps showing the journeys taken by Clara and the captain are
included in back matter and on the endpapers.
This is most enjoyable reading for many, and is sure to be a hit with young listeners.