The Elephant Keeper: Caring for Orphaned Elephants in Zambia (Citizen Kid)

by Margriet Ruurs (Author) Pedro Covo (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade
Series: CitizenKid
When teenaged Aaron discovers a baby elephant nearly drowning in the swimming pool at the guest lodge where he works, he acts quickly and manages to save the animal just in time. The rescued baby is brought to an elephant orphanage for care, and given the name Zambezi. Though Aaron has been raised to think of elephants as dangerous to humans and their crops, on a visit to the orphanage, he learns that illegal poaching of these animals is threatening them with extinction, and the orphanage is trying to prevent that from happening. And when Aaron is offered a job at the orphanage, his life is suddenly transformed, as he discovers a bond of friendship with Zambezi and his lifelong vocation as an elephant keeper.

Inspired by the real-life Aaron and Zambezi at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery in Zambia, author Margriet Ruurs has created a moving story that powerfully demonstrates the plight of endangered animals everywhere. Pedro Covo's stunning illustrations add a level of depth and haunting beauty to the story and the animals. Three nonfiction spreads interspersed throughout the story explore facts about elephants, ivory poaching and elephant orphanages. The back of the book contains ways children can help endangered wildlife. Useful tools include a table of contents and a glossary. This beautifully illustrated nonfiction book spans the curriculum, from life sciences to global awareness to environmental stewardship. It also offers a unique perspective for character education lessons on empathy, caring and responsibility on a larger scale.

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
A moving and unforgettable true story...

School Library Journal

Gr 3-5--Based on a true story, Ruurs recounts how a teenager named Aaron helped rescue Zambezi, an orphaned baby elephant. His heroism prompted an invitation to visit the calf at the elephant orphanage that took her in. This visit, in turn, results in a job when it emerges that Aaron is the only one who can get the calf to drink her milk. Together with Covo's lush evocative paintings, Ruurs's narrative builds a strong emotional connection between readers and the subject--this is a tale designed to pull at the heartstrings of readers. At the same time, however, it presents an explanation of why people hunt elephants. Yes, ivory poachers seek to sell tusks at great profit, but elephants also sometimes trample crops while seeking food, leading to tense relationships with surrounding people. Interspersed between the three chapters that make up Aaron's story are informational spreads, illustrated with photographs, providing fairly basic information about elephants, poaching, and conservation efforts. Back matter includes a "How You Can Help" section. VERDICT Although the informational content is too sparse for report purposes, this volume would be perfect for introducing a unit on elephants or conservation and is a recommended purchase.--Eileen Makoff, P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School, NY

Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Margriet Ruurs
Margriet Ruurs is an avid traveler and has shared her 35 books with children all over the world. She lives in Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.

Pedro Covo is a painter and illustrator whose work has been featured in several magazines and other publications. The Elephant Keeper is his first book. He lives in Cartagena, Colombia.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
October 20, 2017

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