Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes by Kelly Milner Halls and Major William Sumner

42524887Lynn: Perhaps it is the enormity of tragedies such as war that make them hard to grasp. Despite embedded reporters and dramatic photographs, such events often remain distant and unimaginable. Somehow it is the small stories that bring the reality of the suffering into our hearts and minds. Saving the Baghdad Zoo (Harper/Greenwillow 2010) does exactly that. This is the story of the courage and kindness of a committed group of people who worked to help innocent creatures literally caught in the crossfire. Some, like Major Sumner, were assigned to the task. Many volunteered, giving their time and often their own food to the starving, suffering animals.

Halls and Sumner tell the story of the impact of the Iraq War on the animals of the Baghdad Zoo and other smaller animal collections around the city, including palace zoos. An international group headed by Sumner found an appalling situation. With the infrastructure destroyed, the animals were scattered and starving. Some were stolen, some butchered for food. Still under fire, the group worked quickly to help. Some of the stories are heartbreaking like that of the old bear, given a new home, who touched grass for the first time. Some are triumphant like discovering the hidden location of valuable Arabian horses. The book is illustrated with wonderful photographs and enriched by sidebars with information about the animal species. Fascinating and moving, the book makes real the tragedy of war but also affirms the goodness that exists in human hearts. Just put this one on display and watch it fly out the door with readers.

Cindy: A few years ago Lynn and I read an adult graphic novel called The Pride of Baghdad (DC Comics, 2006) written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Niko Henrichon. Told from the viewpoint of four lions that escaped from the zoo in April, 2003, the book showed the horrors of war and the destruction of the Baghdad Zoo from another perspective and was a metaphor for all of the displaced Baghdad citizens. I was thrilled when I heard that Halls was telling another chapter in this zoo’s war history for a youth nonfiction title so I could share the events with my middle school students. Most of the chapters are centered around an individual species, but each situation builds on the understanding of the challenges, dangers, and rewards of helping the animals. Ultimately, the beneficiaries of the humanitarian efforts were not just the animals. When the zoo reopened in July of 2003, it began to restore some normality and hope for the Iraqi people. There’s still a long way to go as Iraq rebuilds, but this book shows that good acts can help healing in many forms.

Thanks to Simply Science, hosnonfictionmondayt of this week’s Nonfiction Monday blog round-up.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

5 Comments on "Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes by Kelly Milner Halls and Major William Sumner"

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  1.' Helen says:

    I really enjoyed Pride of Baghdad and this book sounds good as well. Do you think it’s too young for a high school library?

    • Helen, Hall and Sumner’s book is reviewed for Gr. 4-7 in Booklist but I would consider it for a high school collection due to the curriculum ties to Iraq and the haunting photos of the animal conditions for ethical treatment of animals research. Like sci-fi and fantasy readers, animal fans are willing to read down for good animal stories. There’s also an adult book I haven’t read called Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo by Laurence Anthony that received a Booklist star that should also be of interest to high school students.–Cindy

  2. Hi Cindy and Lynn,

    Thanks so much for featuring SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO. Helping to tell the story of William Sumner and the volunteers who helped him save the war torn animals was an honor, to say the least.

    Best always,


  3. Cindy and Lynn, would my book be eligible for the YALSA nonfiction book award? It’s written for readers 10 and up, really. Certainly not just for elementary school kids. I hope it’s eligble. We worked so hard to get it right.

    • Kelly,

      Neither Cindy nor I are on committees right now so I’d hesitate to advise you, especially with all the changes to the YALSA lists. It’s probably best to have your publisher contact the committee chair. Now if Cindy and I ruled the world…! We’d make all kinds of changes starting with making sure every school had a school library, librarian and a budget for great books like yours ūüėČ –Lynn

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