A Journey with Giraffes

Giraffes are the tallest mammal on the planet. With their long necks and distinctive coats, these animals are admired throughout the world. On June 21, we celebrated World Giraffe Day to create awareness about these unique animals. To learn more about the nature of giraffes, I recommend West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge.

West with Giraffes is about a struggling young man who finds healing when he meets two young giraffes bound for the San Diego Zoo. The story flips from two time periods, Woodrow as an old man and a young Woody living in the Great Depression.

The story begins after the Great New England Hurricane in 1938. Those unlucky enough to be on the ocean when the storm hit, drowned when entire ships were splintered to pieces. However, one ship manages to come to shore with its precious cargo intact. Somehow, two giraffes managed to survive the devastation. A series of events leads Woody to become the unlikely driver of the truck who takes the giraffes all the way to California.

As the journey progresses, we learn more about Woody, an orphan not yet 18. A few years back black clouds rolled into Oklahoma and changed his life forever. Black Sunday was the worst dust storm ever recorded and blew 300 thousand tons of topsoil from the prairie states. The dust lingered in the air for months afterward. Farmland was destroyed. Livestock suffocated. ‘Dust pneumonia’ claimed the lives of his family. There is nothing left for Woody but to dream of a better life in California.

The 1930s are such an interesting point in history. There is the great depression, the dust bowl, Hitler’s regime and the threat of war hanging in the air. There is so much tension and it seems as if everyone is like a wrung-out dish rag, something that’s been twisted so many times it has nothing left to give. Yet the giraffes are hope. Every town they travel through, people flock to catch a glimpse of the animals. It’s a sign of good things to come.

As much as I liked Woody as a character, it is wild girl and boy who are the spotlight of the story. I learned so much about these animals. They may be herbivores, but they are tough as nails. Their hooves are powerful enough to take out a lion. Wild girl is certainly not afraid to kick if she feels someone is giving her any sass. They have gentle hearts and curious spirits, often bending their long necks to peek at the world below them. They have an energy about them that helps heal Woody one day at a time.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that West with Giraffes is based-on a real story. There were indeed two young giraffes that survived the Great New England Hurricane and were driven across country to the San Diego Zoo. There is no better way to celebrate World Giraffe Day than to read West with Giraffes and let wild girl and boy steal your heart.