Every single one of us every day has the opportunity to make a positive difference. We never know how a look, word or gesture done in kindness can change the day or maybe even the life of another person. We can, even in the smallest manner, do the same for the plants and animals who share this place, Planet Earth, with us. Our choices matter.
According to Wildscreen Arkive it is believed that between 1970 and 1992 ninety-six (96) percent of the black rhinoceros population was eliminated. To this day they are still listed as critically endangered. One woman devoted more than three decades to providing protection for these creatures. Her name is Anna Merz. Rhino In The House: The True Story Of Saving Samia (Abrams Books for Young Readers, March 14, 2017) written and illustrated by Daniel Kirk is about Anna and the remarkable relationship she had with a black rhino.
Everyone needs a safe place to live.
Anna Merz worked to obtain thousands of acres to create a sanctuary for black rhinos. A fence was built and guards were hired to protect this land. On one of her walks within the sanctuary Anna noticed a baby rhino neglected by its mother. It would die without assistance.
Anna carried it back to her ranch feeding it a formula to keep it alive. So the baby would not get lonely Anna brought it to bed with her, reading aloud to keep it relaxed. As Samia grew so did Anna's understanding of the sounds the rhino was making. There were definite noises associated with Where are you?, I'm frustrated!, What's that?, and I'm coming.
Anna was wise enough and cared for Samia enough to recognize she needed to be returned to the sanctuary to live with the other rhinoceroses. The two, Anna and Samia, began walking in the sanctuary with Anna's dogs for long periods of time. Samia's natural inquisitiveness created more than one humorous mishap; learning to open the garden gate, eating Anna's hat and quietly entering the bathroom one night when Anna was bathing.
Even after she was living in the wild Samia liked to visit Anna at her ranch. Can you guess why Anna had to use a gallon of cooking oil one day to help Samia? Anna and Samia, a woman and a black rhinoceros, had an unbroken connection.
With the first sentence Daniel Kirk issues a call for readers to enter into the story of Anna Merz's work in Kenya. It is also an invitation for us to be inspired by this woman. Without her commitment to the preservation of the black rhino and the creation of the sanctuary, the story of Samia might never have happened.
Daniel Kirk uses easy to understand, simple sentences to convey the growing affection between the rhino and woman. He also includes specific incidents, many of them humorous, to make the story as personal for us as it was to Anna and Samia. Subtly entwined in the narrative of these two is the value and importance of caring for those who cannot care for themselves and how to do so in the best interest of the animal. It would have been easier for Anna to have kept Samia but she wanted her to live in her natural habitat. Here are two sentences from the book.
Every day Anna and Samia went for long walks so the rhino could learn about her world, and discover the food wild rhinos eat. Sometimes as Samia followed Anna, she would take Anna's fingers in her mouth...
...and as she grew bigger, Samia would often be the leader, offering her tail for Anna to hold.
Rendered in graphite pencil, with color added in Photoshop the illustrations depict the natural setting of Africa, the animals and the warmth of the bond between Samia and Anna. The picture on the front of the dust jacket places Samia front and center but those instrumental in her life, the wild animals on the left and Anna and her dogs on the right, are also included. To the left, on the back, a framed picture of Samia running is placed within an extension, a mirror image, of the front African landscape. The text, the trees framing the scene and Samia are varnished.
The book case is a slightly enlarged interior illustration of Samia moving about with sanctuary animals looking at her on the left and two of Anna's dogs barking and running on the right. The gorgeous endpapers feature a panoramic view of the sanctuary with a large tree growing and branching out from the gutter. The opening endpapers are in the morning on a clear day. Evening has fallen with a different arrangement of animals on the closing endpapers. On the title page three-year-old Samia is running with Anna's hat in her mouth.
On the verso page and on the opposite page are maps of the world, Africa and Kenya to give readers perspective. Daniel Kirk shifts the size of his visuals to assist in the pacing of the narrative, two pages, single pages and loosely-framed smaller pictures on a single page. He also has two horizontal illustrations stretching across two pages, one over the other. To give emphasis to intimate moments he brings us closely to Anna and Samia.
One of my many favorite pictures is when Anna first brings Samia into her home. It is at night in her bedroom with the light low and golden from one lamp. Anna is in her bed reading with mosquito netting draped and drawn back along the sides. Across her lap is a sleeping Samia covered in a small blanket for warmth.
Rhino In The House: The True Story Of Saving Samia written and illustrated by Daniel Kirk is an uplifting, heartwarming story of an extraordinary woman and the marvelous relationship developed with a black rhino. It is a wonderful example of believing you can achieve. This is certain to encourage readers to do whatever they can to help others. At the close of the book, Daniel Kirk includes a three page Author's Note indicating the inspiration for this book and a discussion of his subsequent trip to Kenya for research. Not only does this note allow us to see how the text was formed but also the realistic elements in the illustrations. A bibliography of books and other sources closes the back matter.
To learn more about Daniel Kirk and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name. You will want to visit the publisher's website to learn more about the book. The sanctuary Anna created is now called the LEWA WILDLIFE CONSERVACY. Anna Merz died in 2013. You can read about her life and legacy at The New York Times, and in a tribute at the Rhino Resource Center. Enjoy the book trailer.
Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to learn about other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.