I did not know, until reading this book, how endangered the giraffe is in the wild. These tall, majestic creatures have important places in the zoos near my home, so it is especially difficult to realize their suffering in their homeland. A Leaf for Bongani follows the migration of one small herd of giraffes across the dangers of the Congo in order to survive another year thanks to the sustenance provided by the acacia tree. Imbued with Swahili language and information about the life of giraffes, this is an important story to inspire humans around the world to protect giraffes as best they can. Please see my full review below!
The time has come to make the long and treacherous trek across the Congo to find better grazing grounds farther north. Bongani and his family are giraffes, a herd greatly reduced in number from previous years. With mostly female giraffes in the herd, Bongani and his good friend Abasi form a childhood bond that connects them throughout the journey. But each day brings danger from other animals as well as the scorching heat of the sun, and the giraffes must work together to survive the peril that threatens them at every turn.
Written for a middle grade audience, this story is at once an enjoyable narrative and a study in the importance of wildlife conservation. Giraffe numbers have been silently dwindling in recent years, and it is important that humans step in whenever possible to protect this species for generations to come. Using many details, the narrative shows readers the nature and behavior of giraffes alongside familiar human emotions to better connect readers to these majestic creatures. From family structure, to eating and migration habits, to the dangers from predators and poachers, this book incorporates many important elements of giraffe life into an accessible package.
Interwoven into the narrative are stories and traditions widely recognized by the giraffes in Bongani’s herd. Some of these elements represent similar sentiments in human culture, and they all serve to assist readers in empathizing with the characters in this short novel. The giraffes in the story have been personified, communicating with one another in a blend of English and Swahili as they travel the savannah. A list of Swahili words appears in the beginning of the book alongside their English translations, as well, in order to give readers an access point for comprehending the potentially unfamiliar vocabulary.
Concise and succinct, this short story is a love letter to giraffes and a plea to humans around the world to do what they can to protect giraffes and help ensure their ongoing survival. The incorporation of Swahili and English languages together make the book dynamic and compelling, and readers are sure to come away with a better understanding of Swahili language after reading this book. From the very first moments, the sights, smells, and sounds of the savannah emanate from the text, placing readers easily in Bongani’s world. This is a heartfelt and educational short novel for middle grade readers.
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