Wednesday, September 26, 2012
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.