Hatkoff, Craig & Isabella Hatkoff. Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. Scholastic, 2006. ISBN 978-0439851138 332 pp. $17.99
A year and a half after the deadly 2004 tsunami leveled Indian Ocean coastal communities and destroyed wildlife habitats, this picture book recounts an episode following the disaster. Owen & Mzee is billed as the “complete authorized story of two devoted companions,” and allows readers (through extensive photojournalism) to observe the efforts of dedicated relief workers to rescue a baby hippo they later named Owen.
Relying on news reports and interviews, Craig Hatkoff and his six-year-old daughter Isabella continue the saga of the months-old orphaned animal, chronicling his arrival at an animal sanctuary in Kenya and the surprising bond he forms with one of its long-time residents, Mzee, a 130-year-old male tortoise. Extensive notes and maps explore the areas affected by the tsunami and help define key concepts (underwater earthquakes, tsunamis, animal sanctuaries) for 8- to 10-year-old readers who might find some of the material overwhelming or difficult to grasp. However, the rare bonding of young Owen and elderly Mzee, an occurrence that has baffled animal care experts, marks the beginning of life for a new family in a new home, a concept that children can readily embrace.
Color photographs of the distressed baby hippo reflect the aggressive and physical nature of the animal during his journey to a new home, while later images illustrate his loving and playful personality as he embraces his new family.