We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, as well as reading challenges that we have pledged to join this year.
We have just launched our new reading theme for May-June: Walking the Literary Silk Road – China and the Middle East.
This book is also one of my unexpected finds at the library while I was searching for possible titles that would fit our reading theme.
Chee-Lin: A Giraffe’s Journey
Written and Illustrated by: James Rumford
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
I am cheating a little bit this week, as this title is a fictionalized retelling of the real story of a giraffe who made its way from Africa to India to China “eighty years before Columbus set sail in 1492” as the story begins. In the Author/Illustrator’s Note, Rumford explained that this book is inspired by Shen Du’s painting of a giraffe in 1414 which Rumford placed at the very first part of the story. The painting is found alongside the few surviving records and books of Chinese voyages and explorations.
In Chinese mythology, the chee-lin was a horned beast with the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, and the hooves of a horse. Whenever the emperor was good and wise and the people content, there appeared a chee-lin. Only once in China’s long history had a chee-lin appeared. That was at the birth of their wise man, Confucius.
But two thousand years later, in our fifteenth century, another chee-lin appeared … this time out of Africa. This chee-lin was just a giraffe, but to the Chinese, it was an omen of good fortune.
And so the story of Tweega begins. Rumford takes us to East Africa, when Tweega was only six feet above the grass – a mere newborn, to the time when he was captured by hunters when he was four months old (grown at eight feet long)
to the time he was taken as a gift to the sultan in Bengal where he was described to be “part camel, part ox, part leopard!”
then finally presented as a gift to China as they can not stop babbling about his beauty, calling him “chee-lin” a lucky sign that is meant to be the bringer of good fortune and prosperity, according to Chinese mythology.
Each of the book’s pages is marked by a full-page illustration on the one side and quite a lengthy text on the other (see above). While a bit text-heavy, Rumford managed to capture the lyrical and peaceful existence of Chee-Lin in such evocative language that begs to be read aloud on a quiet night.
Rumford’s art matches the exquisite setting and he provided details of how he created the colours and the paints in his Afterword. He also wrote about the research work he did to give voice to this beautiful creature in captivity, and the few friends he met along the way from Whispering Boy to Old Woman and the Whispering Servant Girl at the very end. More than anything, I was drawn to Chee-Lin’s grace, resilience, quiet struggle, and a golden spirit that remained free despite his harness, straps, and buckles. A beautiful read.