Claude: The True Story of a White Alligator

By Emma Bland Smith, illustrated by Jennifer M. Potter. Little Bigfoot, 2020. 32 pages. $18.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 4–8.

Claude is an albino alligator who has lived most of his life at the California Academy of Sciences, a museum in San Francisco. From the time he was born in Louisiana, people attempted to find a place in which Claude would be safe and happy. This presented a challenge, since the lack of pigmentation makes an alligator vulnerable to sunburn, unable to find food because of poor vision, and likely to become prey to other animals because he stands out in his environment.

Even other alligators pose a problem for him. From the start, the author explains, “his differentness made the other alligators uneasy.” At the museum, another alligator, Bonnie, was introduced into the habitat, but the anticipated friendship foundered when Claude’s inability to see well resulted in his bumping into things, including Bonnie. After they were separated, Claude was calm enough to notice five huge snapping turtles in his habitat, and these creatures were able to work things out.

The true story differs from “The Ugly Duckling” not only in its basis in fact but in the sensitive way the author describes the other animals’ reactions to Claude. Her tone and choice of words makes it clear that their reactions to his differences arise not from anthropomorphic character flaws but from their simple attention to their own survival.

In the colorful full-page illustrations, the people who care for and who enjoy Claude are portrayed as providing a cheerful, attentive background presence. They model reactions that would help make this an inspiring addition to First-day school or a Quaker home library. The “Common Questions About Claude” section at the end of the book stands ready for the interest children are likely to show in knowing more about this unusual animal.

Ann Birch is a librarian and a grandmother in El Paso, Tex.

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