Written by Corinne Fenton
Illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe
Many zoos have an animal that has caught the hearts of its community. Queenie is that animal at the Melbourne Zoo. She was the highlight of every child’s and many adults’ zoo visit from 1905 until 1944 and lives on in Melbourne’s collective memory – at least, that’s the author’s goal in writing this book.
Queenie is described as a gentle Asian elephant with likes and dislikes. Her personality is rounded-out as incidents both humorous and celebratory are described. There is no anthropomorphism as she is taken from the jungles of India to a zoo in Australia and eventually put to work carrying visitors on her back. Queenie often carries up to 500 visitors a day, six days a week. She does this from the age of nine until the age of almost fifty when she is removed from service.
The author has done extensive research on Queenie’s story, interviewing former employees, and zoo goers from the era. The story is told lovingly but without unnecessary description, allowing the illustrations to fill in many of the details. The illustrations by one of Australia’s premiere artists have a period-photo-look using color ingeniously to focus reader’s attention. The images go from a ‘just-sketched’ surround to a photo-realistic center.
Reader alert: although the reading level is accessible to upper elementary readers, the content is mature. Young animal and elephant lovers may find the book’s conclusion heart-wrenching and difficult to understand without an adult’s guidance. This title may be best used as a read aloud or read together.
Readers’ may enjoy seeing the Melbourne Zoo’s Asian elephants as they appear today:http://www.zoo.org.au/melbourne/animals/asian-elephant
Here’s an interview with the author. You can also link to her webpage and blog from here:http://booksforlittlehands.blogspot.com/2011/08/interview-with-award-winning-childrens.html
The illustrator is from Tasmania. Find out more about him here: http://resources.education.tas.gov.au/item/edres/b4648d89-9314-188c-07ef-15679757185e/1/gouldthorpe_final.zip/petergouldthorpe.htm
Teachers’ may find these curriculum guides helpful: http://www1.curriculum.edu.au/rel/values/book.php?catrelid=1851