Lake and Sumter Style Magazine
4:16 pm EDT
Monday, June 27, 2022

Book Club: ‘West with Giraffes’

By Lynda Rutledge. A story based on the real-life journey of two young giraffes on their way to the San Diego Zoo, and all the lives they touch along the way.

My fascination with giraffes started at an early age. When the book “West with Giraffes” came on the scene, I could hardly wait to read it, and it was pure enjoyment.  

In 1999, Lynda Rutledge came across some newspaper clippings in the archives of the San Diego Zoo. In 1938, Belle Benchley, the famous female director of the San Diego Zoo, arranged for two young giraffes to be shipped to the United States. The giraffes survived the deadliest and most destructive hurricane in history, and then were driven across the country to the zoo. The story of the giraffes’ odyssey captured the hearts of Americans as more than five hundred newspapers chronicled their journey. 

Years later Rutledge was extremely distressed to learn of “The Sixth Extinction,” a phrase that describes the loss of endangered species. That spurred Rutledge to recreate the epic voyage of those giraffes in this work of historical fiction.

We first meet the giraffes when they land in New York Harbor after surviving the 1938 hurricane. There to take delivery of “Boy” and “Girl” is animal keeper Riley Jones, or “The Old Man.” Well versed in what seems to be giraffe-speak, The Old Man is in charge of safely getting the giraffes to the zoo. However, Girl’s leg is badly injured, and it is imperative that if Girl is to survive, they must travel with haste.  

Also on the pier is 17-year-old Dust Bowl orphan and hurricane survivor Woodrow Wilson Nickel, but his new boss and cousin have not survived. Woody can’t believe his eyes when he sees the giraffes, and learns they are bound for the Promised Land of California. Woody is captivated by the giraffes and decides he must somehow follow them. 

Enter also, a would-be photojournalist for Life magazine, Augusta “Red” Lowe, who is determined to capture the trip with her camera. When the driver The Old Man hired absconds, Woody becomes the unlikely chauffeur. Thus launches their cross-country trek filled with unimaginable, often disturbing problems, all while Red is hot on their trail. 

Reading this book is a delight and will drive home the fact that the extinction of the magnificent giraffe is totally unacceptable.  

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