Belle is the gift of the pasha of Egypt to the king of France. She is elegant, tall, and a spectacle for the people of France, who have never seen a giraffe before. Her journey is narrated by Atir, her doting escort-umbrella carrier, and begins on the Nile River in 1826. The book showcases how unique Belle was: boats were not made for her (the captain cut a hole in the deck so she could sail comfortably); the weather was not right for her (a specially made cape kept her warm); and she drew crowds as large as 30,000 as she made her 40-day walk to Paris. The art is decidedly Parisian, with charming, muted watercolors (reds are more rust and blues more periwinkle). This story strikes all the right notes for nighttime reading, with the final pages showing Atir putting Belle to bed. Kids taken with this book will also enjoy The Giraffe That Walked to Paris (1992) or Zarafa: The Giraffe That Walked to the King (2009).
- Patricia Williamson
An interesting book about a giraffe that was a gift from Muhammad Ali, a pasha in Egypt, to King Charles X of France is told from the point of view of the care giver to Belle, the giraffe. The tale is narrated in a chronological fashion. According to the authors' note, their retelling is based on a true story according to records in French museum archives and other sources. There is a glossary of French words on this page as well. The illustrations are engaging, and many of them are prints of original documents kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum Nationale d'Histoire Naturelle; they would give a young emerging reader a story all by themselves. There are great notes in the front of the book which point to information beyond that on the printed pages. The story itself is information-heavy, written in narrative fashion, is very factual and historical; it would appeal to a child who has such an interest, but would not necessarily lend itself to being read aloud. Reviewer: Patricia Williamson
School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—In 1827, when the pasha of Egypt sends a gift giraffe to the king of France, the tall, silent animal stirs up considerable excitement all across the country. Borrowing from French sources of the time for information and visual material, this fictionalized retelling follows the journey of Belle by sea and land from Africa to Paris. The trip is narrated by Atir, Belle's Egyptian caretaker, who stayed on in Paris for the exotic newcomer's 18 years of life there. Homely naive drawings interspersed with historical sketches and paintings are scattered across the pages. Mostly a straightforward, sketchy account, this book highlights well-chosen comic aspects of the social and animal history. However, the book isn't very appealing visually. The fully dressed giraffe on the cover will create some interest, but inside it's a slow starter and takes some careful attention to get into what's happening. Sources are cited both at the front and back of the book, and there's a pronunciation guide for some of the French phrases, only some of which are defined in the text. The narrative and the ideas will be most meaningful to a slightly older audience than will be drawn to the book, but it would be worth introducing to animal fans.—Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston
With so much historical detail to work with, Cannell matches its complexity with a mélange of stylishly naïve drawings, reproductions of 19th-century paintings and maps, and photographs of objects and sculpture. The effect is graphically hip with a lot of information to stop and consider, a veritable arboretum of images…This is very much a visual book…and a patient, historically minded young reader should find it a satisfying adventure.
—The New York Times
Holmes and Cannell, the team behind My Travels with Clara, again turn to the exhibit of exotic animals in centuries past in a delightful outing with Harris (Pop-Up Aesop). Narrator Atir describes the gift of the giraffe Belle by the pasha of Egypt to Charles X of France in 1827 and details Belle's long journey to the French capital (also explored in Zarafa: The Giraffe Who Walked to the King). Each piece of information is a treat, from the hole cut in the deck of the ship to accommodate Belle's neck to the raincoat and boots made for her walk to Paris (“Yes, boots. She was not used to walking such long distances,”) and the giraffe mania that greeted her arrival (“There were giraffe songs, poems... fabrics, cough-drop boxes... and gingerbread cookies”). Loopy handwritten script is used for emphasis (“Fancy Parties!” “Paris loves Belle!”), while old maps, photographs, and portraits supplement Cannell's watercolor-and-ink drawings. Perceptive readers may conclude that celebrity and human nature haven't changed much in nearly 200 years. This is history for children as it ought to be written. Ages 6-9. (Apr.)
From the scorching Egyptian desert to bustling Paris, this historically inspired account describes the remarkable trip of a young guide who brings an unusual gift to the French king. Through the fictional voice of Sudanese escort Amir, this narrative chronicles the dramatic journey of giraffe Belle, a present from the Egyptian pasha to Parisian royalty, down the Nile River, across the Mediterranean and through France to her permanent residence in Paris's Jardin des Plantes. The exhausting trip succeeded through innovative planning as Belle, wearing boots and a waterproof jacket, walked eight weeks from Marseille to her destination. Thousands of curious admirers flocked to view the exotic animal. Cannell's mixed-media illustrations match the enthusiastic text in whimsy, thin lines complementing striking cursive phrases prominently displayed against clean backdrops. With a brief pronunciation guide and listed sources, this joins Zarafa: the Giraffe Who Walked to the King (2009), by Judith St. George and illustrated by Britt Spencer, on the shelf. (Picture book. 5-8)