Lynn: Would anyone believe a story about a man and a rhinoceros who traveled the world for years together starting in 1741? Emily Arnold McCully’s utterly charming new picture book tells the story behind this historical event.
Clara: The (Mostly) True Story of the Rhinoceros Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists, and Won the Hearts of Everyone . . . While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent (2016) begins when a Dutch sea captain visits a friend in India and falls in love with an orphaned baby rhinoceros. Captain Van der Meer believes that people everywhere will pay to see this remarkable creature, so he buys Clara from his friend, loads her onto his ship, and sets off for his home in Leiden. Kids will enjoy reading about the logistics of putting a rhinoceros on tour: How do you transport one? How do you feed an animal that eats 100 pounds of hay and 30 loaves of bread a day?
The entire Continent was agog with curiosity and wonder at this mythical beast. The pair spent 17 years touring, journeying from Leiden to the tip of Italy to Vienna, Frankfurt, London, Paris—and everywhere in between. They amazed kings and inspired hairstyles and ballgowns. Through it all, Clara won the hearts of all she encountered—especially the Captain. He cared deeply for his friend. Little wonder: Clara seems to have been the most gentle and patient of creatures.
The amazing story of Clara is enhanced by McCully’s humor-infused text and her wonderfully detailed watercolor illustrations, loaded with charm.
Cindy: The cover art tells you that this isn’t your standard rhino story. End papers with a map of Clara’s zig-zagging European tours build interest in knowing the story behind this odd friendship, which included dealings with the shipbuilders enlisted to construct the wagons needed to haul Clara and her food supply. Can you imagine the sight of a rhino on a large raft with her supplies sailing down the river when land transport was impossible?
More of Clara’s story is available in the resources listed and in the Author’s Note, which includes discussion about the changing attitudes toward the ethical treatment of wild animals. Don’t miss meeting Clara and the Captain!