Baby rhino Jubela is content in his African home, rolling in the mud while his mother watches over him. But suddenly Jubela’s world is shaken to its core when his mother is killed by poachers. Totally bewildered, the hungry and thirsty baby stays beside his dead mother in the hot sun, afraid to leave her, even for shade. It’s not until the returning scent of man alerts Jubela that he ventures out on his own and ultimately finds an adoptive mother. Based on the real-life experience of an orphaned rhino from Swaziland, Jubela is a heartbreaking–and heartwarming–story of the plight of rhinos, 97 percent of which have been lost to poachers over the last 30 years.

Cristina Kessler makes a plea for increased awareness and dedication to protecting these ancient animals in her informative and shocking afterword. The story itself is simple and lyrical, with JoEllen McAllister Stammen’s stunning pastel illustrations capturing the intense heat and beauty of an African savannah, as well as Jubela’s agonizing situation. Based on a true story from Swaziland, Jubela is a heartwarming story of love and a stirring wake-up call to protect our wildlife.- A Nest Literary Classic Selection. A Junior Library Guild Selection.
Late afternoon found baby rhino very hot and very hungry. He had no milk to drink and was too scared to move into the shade alone. He lay beside mother’s silent, still body, completely confused.

Book Reviews

Starred review, School Library Journal What makes this book both exquisite and heartbreaking is the combination of beautifully, but simply expressed poetic prose that demonstrates a deep understanding of the orphaned calf and sensitive, skillful illustrations that show the poignancy of Jubela’s sorrow and bewilderment and the vibrancy of African plains life…All people who care about their fellow creatures will find a powerful lesson here. Publisher’s Weekly Mali-based writer and photographer Kessler takes the bare bones of a true story–based on an occurrence in Swaziland, as she explains in an afterword–and fleshes them out beautifully. Orphaned after a poacher shoots his mother, a baby rhino must survive alone on the African savanna until an older female adopts him. From lyrical descriptions (“sunlight surrendered to darkness”) to vigorous passages (“his clumsy feet kicked stones aside as he thrashed through the thicket”), Kessler’s prose effectively distills the drama of the events for a picture book audience and wins sympathy for the baby’s plight without anthropomorphizing the animals involved. Stammen (If You Were Born a Kitten) bathes her spare but expansive pastel vistas in luxurious light, from the intense African noon that bleaches the color from the landscape, to the long, slanting rays of twilight and the purple and orange glory of a sunset. Her effective use of silhouetted images–the baby rhino alone in the darkness, for instance–underscores the poignancy of his situation. Ages 4-8.