Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What I Read: The White Giraffe

In my other life, I'm an EFL teacher. I work with kids with a range of ages, and so that means once in a while I dip my toes into the YA, middle grade, and picture book pool. The White Giraffe is my first middle grade read of 2017.

Image courtesy Dial
It's a book that seems to be popular with its target demographic (the East Sussex Children's Book award is voted on by students, not teachers), but as an adult it left me underwhelmed.

It's clear that St. John knows and cares a lot about animals, including the unique wildlife of sub-Saharan Africa. According to her biography, she grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe with a host of exotic pets, and frankly that's a memoir I would read! It's also clear that her background was a big influence on The White Giraffe. I just wish that her knowledge, passion, and background had faced a little more scrutiny and gone through a few more revisions before they ended up as The White Giraffe, as it falls a little too close to the White Savior narrative structure for me to really get into.

I also admit that as an adult, I'm hardly the middle grade target audience, but a hallmark of good children's writing is that adult readers can enjoy the book as much as younger readers. In The White Giraffe, the writing felt a little flat and some elements of the plot seemed rushed or thrown in for the sake of . . . I'm not sure what. But as I mentioned earlier, it won the East Sussex Children's Book Award, voted on by students, so I guess the target demo likes it well enough!

The White Giraffe is the first in a series that includes (as of this blog post) four other books: Dolphin Song, The Last Leopard, The Elephant's Tale, and Operation Rhino. Hopefully St. John has found her stride and ironed out the above issues in The White Giraffe, as I think her passion for conservation and the natural world is one worth sharing and cultivating in young readers.

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