Endangered/Eliot Schrefer: Reflections

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hold a book in your lap and it will take you some place.  If you let it take you.

This morning I have sat with Eliot Schrefer's Endangered, which is to say that I've been living in the Congo.  That skittering spectrum of butterflies.  That sizzle of manioc and wild garlic.  Those high, rattling screams of animals, and of war. 

Sophie, our guide, is a teen whose American father lives in Miami, and whose mother has stayed behind in her own country to lead a bonobo sanctuary.  In the opening pages, Sophie saves an orphaned bonobo from a cruel fate by buying him from a starving pedestrian.  It's not the right way to save this endangered species, but it is the only way, and soon Sophie, now at living for the summer at her mother's sanctuary, becomes this scrawny, mangled Otto's best friend. 

Paradise is, however, short-lived.  A coup has occurred.  All madness breaks out in a part of the world whose mineral resources make it wealthy beyond compare, but whose people have learned to live with little and survive on less.  Sophie will have to journey through a war-torn country to safety.  She will have to earn the trust of bonobos, find a way to eat, determine what matters most, keep her Otto safe, allow Otto to protect her.  She will have to understand love and its limits.  Along the way Schrefer's readers come to know a part of the world and a species of animal that deserves our knowing—and attention.

Schrefer comes by his love for bonobos honestly, having spent some time in the Congo himself.  (He has the photos to prove it!)  He (and his book) exude, as well, great purpose—elevating readerly compassion with a determined heroine, hinting at the complexity of life in a fragile country, making it clear that survival comes, always, at great cost.  It's the perfect conversation book, the perfect story for a classroom, the perfect ticket to the Congo.

Three final things:

The photographs above are not of bonobos, but they are the closest I had in my own photo library (images snapped in Berlin last summer).

I loved reading, in the acknowledgments, that my friend and former editor Jill Santopolo had a hand in shaping Eliot's book.  Everything that Jill touches sparkles. 

If you want to see pictures of Eliot debuting his book at Children's Book World this past Friday, go here


ccscurator said...

I guess this might be considered 'old news' but I bought "Flow" the beginning of the year on the annual Paul Rodebaugh Book Hunt. Paul was a historian, retired history teacher, history guide, Quaker and a mad book collector who passed away about 10 years ago. He taught me to just 'buy it and read it when you get a chance' so I did!

I read mostly non-fiction and love history. Rivers are an interest and I have collected the complete 'Rivers of America' series and have read some of them. Since I live near the Schuylkill, go back and forth over it, love the history associated with it and other rivers, I was intrigued to have the river talk to me in first person!

It took me a few pages to get into it but once I did, I just couldn't put it down! You gave it a life: the boats and the canal, the crews, the waterworks and the horrible condition as it got into the 20th century. Why am I telling you; you know it as you lived and wrote about the river!

What a delightful read! I read it twice just to make sure I didn't miss what the river said! Now I have even more goodies to look at as the bibliography showed me a few items I had already read(Nolan, WPA American Guide on Phila)but now I have more!

My daughter is an elementary school librarian. I'll have to see if she has read any of your books!

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