It's always interesting to me when my eleven year old daughter and I read the same book at the same time. Simultaneously, one of my daughter's favorite teachers and a different teacher friend of mine sent Lauren St. John's, The White Giraffe for each of us to read – unbeknownst to any others of us. I began reading the story yesterday during a break in my reading schedule for sixth graders at Mayfield 6. I had about an hour and sped through the first sixty pages.
My first impression of the story is that it is very, very familiar…..much like one of my childhood favorites The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgeson Burnett. A young girl survives a terrible tragedy that takes the lives of both her parents and is sent to live with a grandmother she's never heard of. Grandmother is cranky and emotionally distant doesn't appear thrilled with guardianship of Martine. Furthermore, she lives in South Africa and is the owner of a wild game farm and exotic animal refuge that she forbids her granddaughter to enter. There is much updating of the story with the addition of many characters—not the least of which is Jemmy, the white giraffe. Despite the fact that the plot is incredibly implausible, I found myself really seeing South Africa, especially the animals of the game farm in my mind. The descriptions in the story invite every sense to participate in the lush and wild land—especially at sun rise and sun set. By the end of the story, I was satisfied with the happy ending and glad to have read the book.
My daughter's experience with the book made me chuckle. Never one to be "beat" at anything; she finished the story about ten minutes ahead of me at the breakfast table. If I weren't responsible for getting three of her siblings off to school—I would have beat her to the end handily. Oh well! My daughter loved the story. The parts of the story that I, as an adult, cannot picture really happening didn't matter to her. What mattered to her is that the main character and the giraffe have the ending that she was wishing for. She also loved the descriptions of South Africa….especially as the World Cup Soccer games are beginning now and my daughter is a big fan of the game. She wrote a note to the teacher who loaned her The White Giraffe to say that she LOVED it !!! She can't wait to also read Dolphin Song by the same author.
It just goes to show me…..no matter what I or any adult thinks of a story, to really know how it reads with kids….it has to be read by kids. Don't get me wrong, The White Giraffe is a lovely story, fully deserving of the positive reviews it has received by many adults and kids, especially pre-teen girls, around the world. I found the plot a little too fanciful for me but did enjoy the trip to South Africa immensely.