Chee-Lin: A Giraffe's Journey by James Rumford
Review by Erica Moore
Eighty years before Columbus sailed to the Americas the Chinese sent ships out to explore the world. They discovered many wonderful things which they brought back to their country but the most amazing was the Chee-Lin. The only other Chee-Lin to appear in Chinese history happened at the time of Confucius' birth. The Chee-Lin is a mythical animal with the body of a horse, the hooves of a deer and the horns of an ox. The Chee-Lin represents peace and prosperity. This Chee-Lin was a giraffe, a gift from a sultan to a Chinese emperor. This is the story of Tweega, a giraffe and the Chee-Lin.
Tweega is 4 months old and eight feet tall when he is captured and taken as a prize to sell to travelers from other countries. He is traded several times and travels to many countries. The story is told from the point of view of Tweega. The people he meets and the places he lives are described by him. Tweega travels from Africa to Arabia, India, Bengal and finally to China where he stays. He will be 3 years old and 14 feet tall before he arrives in China. Tweega is regarded as a marvel of creation in the places he visits. He meets many people, some are kind like the tall boy who whispers in his ear and some are not kind to animals like Salt-Man. Wherever Tweega goes he manages to make friends, like the girl with the apples in her sleeve.
Rumford's illustrations are rich and painterly with lots of texture. In an author's note he describes his technique. Each illustration is a a scene out of Tweega's story and corresponds to the text on the opposite page. The text is blocked and framed in borders that reflect the current country or culture of Tweega's journey. This is a nice effect and adds another layer visually to the story. The richness and differences between of all these countries is highlighted. The borders are not done in the style of the illustrations and are varied in style themselves.
The illustrations in Chee-Lin are beautiful and the writing is both informative and engaging. The reader wants to know what happens to Tweega and if he's happy. This is an overall satisfying package.
There is a map of Tweega's journey and a poem done in calligraphy by Rumford. The story was based on a painting of a giraffe and a poem about the Chee-Lin from the early 1400s. Rumford reproduced the poem on the back of the book jacket in calligraphy. He also provides a translation of the poem in English.
This is a great book to introduce world explorers and history to kids.
James Rumford is an award winning author and illustrator with high quality and well researched books. He has an interesting and varied body of work. I would recommend reading his other titles if you haven't explored them yet.
Ages: K-3rd grade
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008
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