Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship Mama: A True Story in Which a Baby Hippo Loses his Mama During a Tsunami, but Finds a New Home, And a New Mama Reviewed by Deb Clark
by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu; Illustrated by Peter Greste
By Jeanette Winter
Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship
Mama: A True Story in Which a Baby Hippo Loses his Mama During a Tsunami, but Finds a New Home, And a New Mama
Reviewed by Deb Clark
I was never so afraid of dying until I became a mother. I’m not scared for myself, but I am abjectly terrified of who will take care of my children if I’m not around.
My fears would abate—although I’d also be kind of bummed—if replacing a mother were as easy as in Owen & Mzee and Mama. Both books tell the compelling and true tale of a baby hippo who loses his mom in the wake of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. After washing ashore, Owen the hippo was taken to a Kenyan wildlife preserve where he formed an immediate and surprising attachment to Mzee, a cranky 130-year-old male giant tortoise. After his initial disinterest, Mzee embraced his role as surrogate hippo mama.
Owen & Mzee is the brainchild of 6-year-old Isabella Hatkoff, who read a newspaper account of the Owen’s story and convinced her father to help her write a book about it, which they did with the assistance of naturalist Dr. Paula Kahumbu. The book’s photos were provided by BBC photojournalist Peter Greste.
Mama chronicles the same events using only the words Mama and Baby. The glowing acrylic illustrations powerfully carry the tale, showing Owen’s peaceful life with his mother, their terror at the huge wave that separates them, and Owen’s rescue and pairing with Mzee. This simplistic approach is much more effective at conveying both the awesome power of the tsunami and Owen’s tragic sense of loss at the disappearance of his mother.
While the text is at times flat and some photos are weak, Owen & Mzee is an appealing book that conveys in clear, easily understood language a charming tale. Mama is the more powerful telling, but this intensity could make the book frightening and confusing for young children.
Ultimately, the real attraction of both these books is the remarkable story of how one baby hippo lost his mother and found another.