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The Odd Couple.

Susan Notes: Here are two books written about the same incident involving a baby hippo named Owen and a 130-year-old giant tortoise named Mzee.

Book Review: My husband and I just read two books on the same topic, and we liked them both.

Okay, I admit I bought Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu (Scholastic Press 2006) because I couldn't resist the premise: a baby hippo named Owen and a 130-year-old giant tortoise named Mzee become friends. Complete with photographs of the odd couple.

I think it's impossible to see this book cover and walk on by. At least I couldn't.

When Owen was stranded after the Dec 2004 tsunami, villagers in Kenya worked tirelessly to rescue him. Then, to everyone's amazement, the orphan hippo and the elderly tortoise adopted each other. The book shows them snuggling together.

Jeanette Winter takes the same true story and creates MAMA: a TRUE story, in which a BABY HIPPO loses his MAMA during a TSUNAMI, but finds a new home, and a new MAMA (Harcourt 2006). It is really hard to describe this exquisite little book. The cover, showing a tiny hippo in a huge sea, calling "Mama," gives a hint of the feeling of vastness--and loneliness--that Winter conveys.

The emotional impact of this book is profound. The text consists of just two words, "Mama" and "Baby," and the result is a poetic account of devastating loss and renewal. Winter manages to capture the true tragedy, which makes the remarkable friendship all the more satisfying.

And just because it is enormously satisfying for a young reader to be able to read the whole book, doesn't mean the book should be limited to young readers. It's on my list of a great gift book for adults. After all, my husband, the physicist, read it twice.

— Susan Ohanian
Book Reviews


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