By Suzi Eszterhas. Owlkids, 2017. 40 pages. $17.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 7–10.Buy from QuakerBooks
What a story! Suzi Eszterhas is a wildlife photographer who spent three years in Kenya photographing animals in the Masai Mara National Reserve. The Masai Mara is a wildlife refuge in the midst of a savanna, like a sea of grass. For the first year she lived there, she had no electricity, which led her to learn how to charge batteries using her Jeep battery, and to read by lamplight. This was a big change for a young American girl. It was also a dream come true.
Suzi’s tent was big enough for her bed, desk, trunk, and chair. She happily photographed the wonderful animals around her: elephants, lions, leopards, wildebeest, zebras, hippos, and hyenas. There were snakes, too: mambas and cobras. Once she had a spitting cobra on her desk. Okay, that might have sent me packing back to California and electric lights. Not Suzi! She reveled in living close to all of the animals with just the tent fabric between them. Nighttime brought all the sounds of the creatures just outside her tent, and this became her happy lullaby.
The book has wonderful photos of Suzi’s best friend, Moto, a tiny two-week-old serval (wild cat). Moto was given to Suzi to care for by rangers. He was dropped by his mother who was rescuing him and his siblings from a fire. The rescue was inadvertently interrupted by tourists.
The photos accompanying the story tell the tale. I’ve looked through the book several times and can see that the photos definitely would tell the tale to a young nonreader. It would be a wonderful book to read to a child. There are photos of Moto taking a bottle, riding in a jeep, catching a mouse for his dinner, and cuddling with his foster mom from a pouch sewn to the front of her shirt.
All in all, I enjoyed every page of the book. I am sure part of my enjoyment was because I had the opportunity to visit Masai Mara about 20 years ago and slept in a tent there for several nights. All of my happy memories came flooding back. I have a carved zebra from Kenya on my desk right now, bought from a little boy who carved and painted it. I wonder if he grew up to be an artist or a ranger who helped rescue Moto. My imagination takes me right back to Kenya.
Do take a look at a world map to see where this takes place and consider how far away Africa is, and Kenya specifically. The Masai Mara is just a part of Kenya, but it is where this wonderful story happened and where a wonderful cat named Moto is running free. You can also visit Suzi online at suzieszterhas.com, which is almost like taking a magic carpet ride to Africa. Have fun!