My first exposure to the Egyptian pasha’s gift to the king of France came by reading Michael Allin’s book Zarafa: A Giraffe’s True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris (my review). Since then I’ve wanted to buy an affordable edition of Nancy Milton’s children’s book The Giraffe That Walked to Paris. An inter-library loan (thank you Enterprise Public Library) allowed me to test-drive it with a 7-year old and a 3-year old. Two thumbs up!
This is the kind of book which can create a thirst for history. There are 20 pages of solid text, denser than a typical picture book, but with illustrations that keep kids interested. Imagine it is 1826, and a nation that had never seen a giraffe. Think through the logistics of moving such a large animal before the time of cars and trucks or trains. A ship was fitted to transport her from Alexandria across the Mediterranean Sea to Marseilles. She walked from Marseilles to Paris, about 425 miles! The illustration shows one man leading the giraffe. Actually it took four men with four ropes to keep the giraffe secure. A gift for the king can’t be running off! For France, it was the Next Big Thing: there was an explosion in giraffe art, giraffe china, giraffe linens, and even a giraffe hairstyle.
I am fascinated how one animal can so greatly impact a culture. If you happen to be in Paris, you can see La Girafe’s remains (what does one call the non-living specimen?) mounted, on display. If you happen to be in Paris, make sure you visit Jardin des Plantes, the second oldest zoo in the world.
One could easily springboard from the reading of this book to a short introduction to geography, zoology, taxidermy or meteorology.
Here’s a fun quote:
It isn’t easy to make a raincoat for a giraffe,
but Professor Saint-Hilaire designed a good one
that covered her whole body and buttoned down the front.
It even had a hood to keep her head and long neck dry.
I want to read two other children’s books about La Girafe: Mary Holmes’ A Giraffe Goes to Paris and Judith St. George’s Zarafa: The Giraffe Who Walked to the King.
In a most delicious synchronicity, it turns out my other grandsons went to the San Diego zoo and saw giraffes.