Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh
Subtitled 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History, this large book celebrates animals large and small that deserve to be remembered for all time.
They are grouped together under category headings: Rescue & Protect, Adventure & Explore, Change & Solve, Discover & Pioneer and Inspire & Influence.
I’m ashamed to say that many of these amazing animals and their feats have passed me by. Not though, thanks to Michael Morpurgo’s book Running Wild based on their escape, Ning Nong the elephant that saved the life of a little girl staying in Phuket in the 2004 tsunami.
The first creature in the same opening section is Cher Ami a homing pigeon that towards the end of the First World War managed to withstand bullet injuries to her breast, leg and eye to deliver a crucial message about a battalion of American soldiers who were unknowingly being attacked by their own men. In the same section is Wojtek, an ursine member of the Polish army during WW2 when, standing on his hind legs he carried onto the battlefield vital heavy boxes of bullets and bombs.
Many people know about Laika the space dog but how many know of Montauciel the sheep that also took flight, in a hot-air balloon no less? I certainly didn’t.
Because of Dianne Hofmeyr’s picture book Zeraffa Giraffa, I was familiar with the story of Zaraffa the giraffe that was sent from Egypt in the early C19th to Paris as a gift for the King of France. These animals are remembered in the Adventure & Explore section.
Again on account of a picture book, My Name is Bob, by James Bowen whose life was changed by the stray feline that befriended him, I knew of Streetcat Bob, celebrated in the Change & Solve section. It’s thanks to this fascinating section too that I learnt about another dog that changed a life forever. Endal, became an assistance dog to a wounded naval officer, Allen, and subsequently won a gold medal for bravery when Allen was hit by a car and knocked out of his wheelchair. The dog was able to move him to a safe position, run to a hotel close by and raise the alarm. Incredible.
Other animals whose stories are part of this fascinating book have had an influence on how we relate to the natural world, or have enhanced our understanding of social interaction and behaviour. Some including the dog Hackiko, Keiko the orca whale (Free Willy), Elsa the Lioness and Seabiscuit the champion racehorse have become film stars.
Every spread includes Sarah Walsh’s empathetic illustrations along with archive photos and sometimes, relevant documents; and each has a quotation from a person, a press cutting or perhaps a TV programme.
The book ends with a world map showing where each of the fifty animals was born, annotated with a postage stamp size portrait and a glossary.
Engrossing and enlightening Ben Lerwill’s first book for children will delight animal lovers of all ages.