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*Chee-Lin: A Giraffe's Journey* by James Rumford
Chee-Lin: A Giraffe's Journey
by James Rumford
Grades 2-3 40 pages Houghton Mifflin September 2008 Hardcover    

Inspired by a nugget of history, an ancient painting of a giraffe and attendant, James Rumford has created a charming story of a beautiful, male giraffe. The tale begins in the early 15th century as Tweega (the Swahili word for giraffe) is born in Eastern Africa and captured after only a few months by some natives to be sold to a sultan.

The trip is frightening for the young giraffe, but when he reaches Malindi, a young boy gently cares for him and he grows tall and strong. Unfortunately, Tweega’s travels are just beginning as this sultan soon gives him to the sultan of Bengal. Once again the giraffe travels, this time longer than ever before. When he reaches India, the people are fascinated by this animal they’ve never seen before and keep him for a short time as a novelty.

Soon, however, a different culture, represented by Chinese merchant ships, discover the animal and proclaim him to be the “Chee-lin” a good omen of peace and good times. Once more a gift, to the emperor of China, Tweega commences on another long and arduous journey. He is taken to the imperial park in Nanjing and admired by all.

Other giraffes, zebras and ostriches eventually join Tweega, and they are soon moved to a larger park in the new imperial capital of Peking. Tweega lives out his years in Peking, making friends with a tender servant girl who cares for him until his old age. Always a source of fascination for the Chinese, the end of his life is a mystery as the old giraffe disappears from the gardens.

James Rumford pairs his striking casein paintings with a wonderful story of this legendary giraffe. With a colorful layout alternating a page of framed text opposite a painting, this picture book is visually appealing, capturing the imagination of the audience with fluid text and bright colors. The backgrounds change with the setting of the story depicting beautiful African, Indian and Chinese patterns.

With the author’s note at the end, we learn of the historical facts that inspired the story. Throughout the story, the giraffe’s positive response to gentle care and hardships endured with travel and rough handling reinforce the message of the need for kindness to animals. An ancient-looking map at the end serves as both a chart and a timeline depicting Tweega’s life. The poem accompanying the ancient Chinese painting that inspired the story is translated within the author’s note.

Pair this story with The Giraffe That Walked to Paris by Nancy Milton or with a nonfiction book about giraffes in an animal unit. The story can also serve to inspire student writing as an example of how a piece of historical reality can become a fascinating story.

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  Kristine Wildner/2009 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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