November 3, 2014

Chee-Lin: A Giraffe’s Journey by James Rumford

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:27 am by suebe2

A Giraffe’s Journey
by James Rumford
Houghton Mifflin and Company

If you didn’t know what a giraffe was and couldn’t look it up online, what would you think the first time you saw the towering, spotted beast?  The first Chinese to see a giraffe thought that it was the mythical chee-lin.  This rare and amazing horned creature, with  the body of a deer, the tail of an ox and the hooves of a horse was considered a sign of good luck.  Given the description of a chee-lin, it isn’t surprising that when a giraffe was given to the Emperor, he and his people believed the animal was their mythical sign of good luck.

How did a giraffe make it all the way to China?  No one knows for certain except that it arrived on a treasure ship.  During the Ming Dynasty, a fleet of treasure ships led by admiral Zheng He, roamed the seas.  They traded with various rulers and returned with a wide variety of treasures for the emperor.  One of these treasures was a giraffe.

From a surviving painting and a few historical references, James Rumford has imagined this story.  He populates it with a variety of people some of whom do a good job caring for the chee-lin and others who don’t do nearly as well.  Still, near the beginning of his life and again near the end, he is fortunate enough to have young people who care for him, whispering in his ear and bringing him treats. Rumford works in a variety of details about life at this time, including the manual labor of the poor, the life of luxury of the wealthy and the building projects of a thriving dynasty.

I especially enjoyed Rumford’s art work.  The backgrounds of each spread contain designs from textiles from the countries in which this story takes place — Malawi, India and China.  The paintings themselves are made with a type of milk based poster paint that yield bright, vibrant colors.

Although this book is too long for a very young reader, the details will interest children who love animals as well as those interested in China and ancient exploration.



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