Once upon a small rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay
Ill. by Leila Rudge. Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781925126709
(Age: 3+) Highly recommended. Rhinoceros, Animals, Bravery, Travel, Independence, Taking a risk. The small rhinoceros wants something more than her fellow animals. She watches the ships sail by with huge interest, breathing in the sights, sounds and smells from places far away. She asks the other rhinoceros why they don't feel curious about what lies elsewhere, but they reply that they are very happy with their lot, wallowing in the mud and grazing on the grass. But she is still unhappy and one day builds a boat. The other rhinoceros are appalled: she cannot build a boat, she cannot read a map, she is sailing into danger. But still she goes, across the seas, watching the fish and tasting the salty sea, seeing lands far away, and meeting people of those lands. When she has seen all she wants to see, she heads home and reports back what she has done. Her friends are still just as interested in their grass and their mud, and are equally dismissive of her travels and what she saw, but another small rhinoceros asks her if she got lost. She tells her that yes she did, and the other animal looks longingly at the sea just as she did.
This beautifully crafted tale of taking a risk, of bravery, of not going along with the crowd, will appeal to young readers. The message is clear, that life is not about being the same as the rest, but looking outward to see what is there.
Rudge's beautiful illustrations show a life jacketed rhinoceros bravely going where no rhinoceros has been before on the front cover and the excited look on her face will beg readers to look inside. The watercolour and pencil illustrations are simply charming, giving a personality to the young rhino, endearing her adventurous spirit to the readers. Readers will thoroughly enjoy recognising the countries to which she travels, spotting the iconic cultural features of each, and matching the presents she brings back for her friends to the places she visited. I know I did.