Monday, June 10, 2013

Non-Fiction Monday: Queenie: One elephant's story by Corinne Fenton

Illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe. 24 p. Candlewick Press, June 11, 2013. 9780763663759. 

Whenever I recollect childhood visits to the Bronx Zoo when I was a kid in the 60s, I remember feeling sadness even though these animals were most impressive to view up close. 

Even though Horton Hatches an Egg is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, Horton's travails make me terribly sad. 

When our kids were small, my husband and I took them to see The Big Apple Circus. When the elephant was trotted out, we both turned to each other with identical looks of sadness. There's just something so wrong about such a majestic beast balancing on a beach ball let alone enclosed, far away from its natural habitat.

Queenie was born in the Indian jungle sometime in the late 1800s but hunters trapped her, tied her up, hoisted her onto a steamship and sent her to a zoo in Melbourne. In 1905, when she was estimated to be nine-years-old, she was deemed old enough to carry passengers. And so, six days a week, she would wait patiently while zoo visitors climbed a stepladder and sat in a saddle called a howdah. She was a very popular attraction and folks would wait for hours for a ride. "On some days she carried more than five hundred people." 

She seemed to have special affection for one of her keepers. Children would leave treats on the fence posts. But some children would tease her and stick pins in her trunk. She was able to exact some revenge though.

The zoo made lots of money with merchandising. Queenie posters, pencils and postcards were quite popular and her birthday was celebrated every year. 

After nearly forty years of service, Queenie accidentally killed one of her zoo keepers in 1944 and the Zoo Board decided it was too unsafe for her to continue carrying passengers. Despite thousands of letters written on behalf of the elephant, she was put to sleep in 1945 due to the food shortages during the war and the high cost of feeding Queenie.

The story ends by explaining that the Melbourne Zoo as well as most zoos around the world now provides the animals in captivity habitats similar to their native habitats. 

In merely 24 pages, using gently matter-of-fact language, the author invites the reader to reflect on the issue of animals in captivity without bashing us over the head with the message. As if the story weren't sad enough, the illustrations, though gorgeous evoke the terror of her capture and delivery to the zoo, first via cart, then ship, then truck. They are realistically painted, but left unfinished around the borders giving them action a sort of spot-lit feel. In each picture, Queenie appears stoic and dignified. They just beg the reader to linger. This one is a keeper.

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted by Practically Paradise today.


  1. Wow. This one does sound good. Like that it's telling a story and not lecturing. Thanks for the recommendation.
    Apples with Many Seeds

  2. This is such an important Message. I feel that there are not enough books on compassion when it comes to Animal Kingdom. Thanks for sharing!

  3. This reminds me of Faithful Elephants which is another sad yet powerful book about compassion for animals. Thank you for mentioning this book.