Kid Lit Review of “Owen & Mzee: The True Story of A Remarkable Friendship” by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Paula Kahumbu

How can you not love this story? It is the true account of a baby hippopotamus and a giant tortoise who became friends after a devastating tsunami off the coast of Kenya in 2004. The authors of this book include Dr. Kahumbu, who is director of the sanctuary where the two friends made a home.

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After the tsunami in December 2004, a baby hippo was alone and stranded on a coral reef in the Indian Ocean near the small coastal town of Malindi. The hippo was too tired and scared to reach the shore. The villagers wanted to help him, but, although he was a baby, he still weighed 600 pounds and was slippery. Finally he was caught with a shark net and the efforts of a brave man named Owen Sobien, which is how the hippo got the name of Owen. The villagers contacted Haller Park, an animal sanctuary some fifty miles away near the city of Mombasa (the second largest city in Kenya), and Dr. Paula Kahumbu offered to come get him. Meanwhile, the sanctuary workers prepared an enclosure for Owen with a pond and mud wallow, an area already occupied by a number of other animals, including Mzee (pronunced mm-ZAY), a 130-year-old Aldabra tortoise.

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When Owen arrived, he went directly to Mzee and crouched behind him, just like baby hippos do with their mothers. Mzee tried to get away from Owen, but Owen kept tagging after him. Furthermore, Owen would only eat if he was next to Mzee.

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Finally, Mzee began to get friendlier, and the two soon became inseparable. As the authors note, “our most important friends are sometimes those we least expected.”

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According to Haller Park staff, Owen began to behave more like a tortoise than a hippo. There was also growing evidence of physical communication between the pair, with Owen nibbling Mzee’s back feet to get him to walk in a desired direction. The two even developed a sort of vocal communication of their own, according to Dr. Kahumbu.

At the time this book was published, the two were still together. The same year, however, Dr. Kahumbu decided Owen had grown too large to safely interact with Mzee. (Full-grown adult hippos can weigh as much as 8,000 pounds.) A separate enclosure was built for Owen and a new (female) hippo named Cleo, with whom he bonded quickly. Mzee was also provided with a mate.

The photographs in the book, by Peter Greste, are just wonderful.

The book includes a guide to pronouncing the names in the book.

There is a website for kids that has a video on the story of Owen and Mzee. The Scholastic Press website also has an excellent collection of resources on the pair.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Scholastic Press, 2006

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3 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Owen & Mzee: The True Story of A Remarkable Friendship” by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Paula Kahumbu

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    Aw, that is so sweet. Humans could take lessons from animals like that.

  2. Rachel says:

    That baby hippo is the cutest thing ever! What a great story.

  3. stacybuckeye says:

    Oh, so sweet! But also a little sad that they did have to be separated in the end. I do love a HEA ending 🙂

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