Zarafa: The Giraffe Who Walked to the King

Zarafa: The Giraffe Who Walked to the King

by Judith St. George, Britt Spencer

Zarafa is a beautiful and gentle giraffe . . . so wonderful, in fact, that the ruler of Egypt offers her as a gift to the king of France! But how to get her there? Why, she sails up the Nile by felucca, crosses the sea by brigantine, and, yes, walks the last five hundred miles to Paris. People love it. And they love her, meeting and greeting her along the


Zarafa is a beautiful and gentle giraffe . . . so wonderful, in fact, that the ruler of Egypt offers her as a gift to the king of France! But how to get her there? Why, she sails up the Nile by felucca, crosses the sea by brigantine, and, yes, walks the last five hundred miles to Paris. People love it. And they love her, meeting and greeting her along the way, cheering her on. Afterward, the grateful French king places Zarafa in his own royal garden, where all of Paris comes to visit and love her. Judith St. George (So You Want to Be President?) brings this amazing?but true?journey to life with help from the whimsical art of Britt Spencer.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This lively collaboration by the creators of Make Your Mark, Franklin Roosevelt highlights a unique historical episode, following a 19th-century giraffe, a gift from the viceroy of Egypt to Charles X, as she journeys from Africa to France. Fanciful flourishes fill Spencer's watercolor, gouache and ink art: after being captured in the wild, Zarafa perches on a camel as it carries her to a Sudanese village; she patiently tolerates costumed monkeys climbing on her neck while sailing down the Nile to Alexandria; and she pops her head through a freshly cut hole in the deck of the ship that brings her across the Mediterranean to France. There, over time, the affable animal finishes the trip on foot, accompanied by a pair of handlers, Hassan and Atir (as well as scientist Geoffrey Saint-Hillaire), cheered by admiring crowds along the way ("Hundreds-no, thousands-of visitors came to see Zarafa in the King's Garden.... Zarafa had been more that a gift to the king. She had also been a gift to the people of France"). St. George's breezy, conversational text ("Was she worn out? Not Zarafa!") moves this voyage along briskly. Ages 6-8. (June)

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. . . the sheer exuberance caused by the animal's spectacle at every step of her journey is undeniably infectious.
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
In 1824, Muhammad Ali, viceroy of Egypt, had a baby giraffe captured to be sent to King Charles X of France as a gift of friendship. St. George has described the arduous journey of this creature (never before seen in France) in great detail, with humor and empathy. Named Zarafa, the young animal had first to grow large enough to travel. Then she had to sail on a felucca up the Nile to Alexandria, along with cows to give her milk and monkeys for fun. Gentle, well-loved Zarafa takes a ship across the Mediterranean to cold, rainy Marseilles. When the weather improves, she must walk the five hundred fifty miles to Paris, admired all the way. The king is enchanted by his gift, as are all the people who come to see her. This enchanting story, with its delightful heroine, is brought to deliciously attractive life by Spencer's mainly double-page, watercolor, gouache, and ink outline illustrations. The overactive monkeys in their jackets and the crowds that fill town squares, portrayed so that we can almost hear their delighted comments, all add life. Both characters and scenery are detailed with a bit of humorous exaggeration, while Zarafa is a hit all along her way through the French countryside. A map and bibliography are included for this true story. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal

Gr 2-4

It is a long way from Africa to France, especially for a giraffe. Yet in 1824, young, comely Zarafa began the trek from her village-by felucca up the Nile to Alexandria, by sailing ship across the Mediterranean, and by walking 500 miles from Marseille, where she landed, to Paris, where she was presented to King Charles X as a gift from Muhammad Ali, the viceroy of Egypt. St. George relates this true event in a conversational style, drawing readers into the journey with anecdotes about Zarafa's likability and serene nature, regardless of the confusion often surrounding her. Seamlessly, the author weaves information into the story, telling how the giraffe was fed and cared for by her ever-present and loyal handler, Atir, and giving other details of her travels. Cheered everywhere she appeared, Zarafa became an instant celebrity. The king, charmed by his "enchanted gift," built a home for the giraffe in the King's Garden. Spencer takes full advantage of the spreads, offering background particulars while placing Zarafa at the center of the story. Rich, pleasing colors and expressive, animated lines add to the presentation. Children will enjoy this book, and teachers will find it a suitable link to studies on Africa and France, as well as to other animals that have experienced unusual lives.-Barbara Elleman, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA

Kirkus Reviews
Zarafa the giraffe first traveled on camelback, then by a small, creaky boat, then a tall ship and, finally, walked 550 miles on her own four hooves. Why would a giraffe ever do all of that? In 1824, Muhammad Ali, the viceroy of Egypt, decided to present King Charles X with a beautiful, exotic gift-a giraffe (in Arabic, zarafa means "charming" or "lovely one"). But Zarafa had to travel all the way from Egypt to France, with her lanky neck and knobby-kneed legs growing the entire time. In her trademark witty yet informational style, St. George relates this epic journey with a jaunty text and quick, parenthetical quips. Spencer easily captures this essence as his long-lashed giant happily lopes through the pages, much to the delight of adoring crowds. His gentle human caricatures and almost-but-not-quite anthropomorphized animals are playful, expressive and fun (an attendant cow's seasickness is a particularly amusing detail). Thousands of visitors came to see Zarafa in France-no doubt many more will flock to this book. (author's note) (Informational picture book. 6-8)

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.70(w) x 9.60(h) x 0.50(d)
AD670L (what's this?)
Age Range:
6 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Judith St. George has published dozens of successful nonfiction books for children, including the Caldecott Medal-winning So You Want to Be President? and the historical Turning Point series, including You’re On Your Way, Teddy RooseveltStand Tall, Abe Lincoln; and Take the Lead, George Washington. You can visit her online at

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