The best giraffe books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about giraffes and why they recommend each book.

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West with Giraffes

By Lynda Rutledge,

Book cover of West with Giraffes

Unlike the others on my list, this book is a work of fiction. I loved this book and would go out on a limb and say it is one of the best novels I have ever read. I am still thinking about it months later! It is based on real-life events, but the author uses a fictional framework to bring the reader up close and personal with two giraffes who made an extraordinary journey across the United States during the Great Depression. I love how Lynda Rutledge uses animal history to tell a compelling story.


Who am I?

I am a historian of visual culture, and my work explores the ways images can shape and challenge dominant ideas about other species. The ways we choose to represent certain animals (or not) can have important consequences, both in terms of environmental issues but also in terms of the wellbeing of individual animals. Digging deeper into these histories can make us aware that the categories we like to put animals in can shift and change depending on the time period and place. As we confront increasingly urgent climate and environmental issues, understanding these dynamics will be even more important than ever.


I wrote...

Art for Animals: Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870-1914

By Keri Cronin,

Book cover of Art for Animals: Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870-1914

What is my book about?

This book looks at the ways in which those working to make the world a better place for animals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used art and imagery in their campaigns. Today we expect that activist campaigns are highly visual, but my book goes further back in time to try to understand some of the ways that reformers saw visual culture as an integral part of animal advocacy at this earlier point in history. 

There are some similarities--much like today, debates over the appropriate use of graphic imagery existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, there were some aspects of these early campaigns that aren’t as widely considered today: the role of art education as a way to foster kind and humane behavior in children, for example, or the ways in which some of the most famous paintings of the day were repurposed as campaign material.

Celeste the Giraffe Loves to Laugh

By Celeste Barber, Matt Cosgrove (illustrator),

Book cover of Celeste the Giraffe Loves to Laugh

The great thing about picture books is they can give these incredible, and sometimes incredibly simple, messages about life. Celeste the Giraffe Loves to Laugh is a story about Celeste, who doesn’t know where she fits in, she feels like all the other animals are cooler than her. So she sets out to be like them in order to be “better”. But that leads to one disaster after another, with Matt Cosgrove’s hilarious illustrations adding to the action as Celeste uses all sorts of random items for her costumes.

In the end, Celeste finds her own special gift, the thing that makes her at least as cool as all the other animals!


Who am I?

I am obsessed with personal development, having attended seminars to walk across hot coals and jump from crazy heights to test my limits, and I have read hundreds of books and watched hundreds of videos on self-improvement. But sometimes the best lessons come in fiction, and kid’s books do this so wonderfully. And they are a lot quicker to read and absorb! They also teach with humour, rhythm, and joy, and can change a child’s life simply by letting them escape into a world of laughter and joy, expanding their imaginations, and letting them absorb the lessons, sometimes without even realising it.


I wrote...

How to Catch a Leprechaun

By Adam Wallace, Andy Elkerton (illustrator),

Book cover of How to Catch a Leprechaun

What is my book about?

How to Catch a Leprechaun is a crazy, chaotic St. Patrick’s Day Eve rhyming romp through the houses of kids trying to catch a Leprechaun. With a mixture of slapstick, STEM, and escalation, How to Catch a Leprechaun has hit the New York Times Bestseller List four years in a row leading up to St Patrick’s Day.

Will Giraffe Laugh?

By Hilary Leung,

Book cover of Will Giraffe Laugh?

The fact that I’ve read this book to my son nearly every night for the past year and am not sick of it yet is a testament to how charming it is. This book is about a group of friends and one of them, Giraffe, is very grumpy. The friends take turns in trying, then failing, to cheer him up, until finally they all become sad and it’s up to Giraffe to cheer up his friends. The story is a great reminder that our emotions are not just ours. They’re contagious and affect those we love most. Also, if I had to pick a book to represent my son, who usually has a grumpy look on his face, this would be the one! 


Who am I?

I feel passionate about the topic of friendship because I haven’t been a great friend to all the people that have mattered to me. I’ve learned the value of friendship by making a lot of mistakes. I’m very lucky to be in my 40’s, have an amazing family, and still have a few individuals that I’ve known my entire adult life, who I still talk to on a regular basis. These people are really good friends, because, to be honest, they’ve seen me at my worst, and still love me. I consider myself a wealthy man, in no small part because of my friends. 


I wrote...

A Friend for Yoga Bunny

By Brian Russo,

Book cover of A Friend for Yoga Bunny

What is my book about?

In his second outing, Yoga Bunny finds a new friend... Bear! Bear is nervous about her birthday party and Bunny shows her how he uses yoga to feel more relaxed. He then invites her to do yoga with him and some other animals the next day. When she doesn’t show up, Yoga Bunny is sad at first, but then let's go and wishes her the best. I hope this will show young readers an important aspect of friendship: we can’t always fix our friend’s problems, and they won’t always do what we want. But if we stay open and respect what they’re going through, everything will turn out for the best.

Lifetime

By Lola M. Schaefer, Christopher Silas Neal (illustrator),

Book cover of Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives

There’s plenty to count on the pages, but this book soars by stressing the repetition of events in the lifetimes of spiders, snakes, kangaroos, and other animals. The word “amazing” in the title sets a bar that’s met as we learn that a woodpecker will drill thirty holes in trees. A giraffe will sport 200 spots. And there’s much more for eager readers to count.


Who am I?

I was a girl who looked under rocks. Besides caring about crawling things and forests, I liked to read and write about history, which became the passion I followed into college and a career. No regrets, but I sometimes wonder what might have become of me if an interest in science was more encouraged and I was nudged past my fear of math. 


I wrote...

Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math

By Jeannine Atkins,

Book cover of Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math

What is my book about?

In Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math, free verse introduces some scientists who always found joy in math as well as those who found parts of it tough, but kept at it until they saw its beauty. Paths taken include astronomy, statistics, and physics, shown in the context of lives in which friendship and family matter a lot, too.

Giraffes Can't Dance

By Giles Andreae, Guy Parker-Rees (illustrator),

Book cover of Giraffes Can't Dance

"Gerald was a tall giraffe
Whose neck was long and slim
But his knees were awfully bandy
And his legs were rather thin."

It is Gerald’s story but in fact, my favourite spread is the one which shows (brilliant artwork here) the other animal dancers

"The wart hogs started waltzing
And the rhinos rock ‘n’ rolled
The lions danced a tango
Which was elegant and bolded
The chimps all did a cha-cha
With a very Latin feel
And eight baboons then teamed up for a splendid Scottish reel."

And of course in the end Gerald astonishes them all having had some advice on rhythm from a friendly cricket.

I recommend this book not only for its rhythm and rhyme but for its implication that if you try hard you can do more than you think. Also for its lovely flowing illustrations.


Who am I?

I am passionately keen on poetry of many types because, whether rhyming or not, most poetry employs rhythm which is something that has a subconscious appeal to human senses. For children, rhyme provides an easy introduction to poetry and I enjoy using it because children themselves love it. Mums tell me that they are asked to read the same book time and time again – and not to try to skip any spreads! At the age of three, before she could read, my son’s goddaughter knew the whole of You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus by heart. The rhymes children hear when very young remain with them, sometimes forever. 


I wrote...

You Can't Let an Elephant Drive a Racing Car

By Patricia Cleveland-Peck, David Tazzyman (illustrator),

Book cover of You Can't Let an Elephant Drive a Racing Car

What is my book about?

This is the fifth book and latest in the series which began with You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus. These are rhyming books about a gang of silly animals who want to be helpful, do exciting things and excel at things like sports but always get things wrong and end up creating crazy, chaotic situations. This is something most children and quite a number of adults feel. Usually the animals end up having fun in spite of their failings – after all, they meant well.

The whacky illustrations by David Tazzyman aptly portray this …in a way that never fails to make children laugh and adults smile.

Girl Who Loved Giraffes

By Kathy Stinson, Francois Thisdale (illustrator),

Book cover of Girl Who Loved Giraffes: And Became the World's First Giraffologist

When Anne Innis Dagg was a little girl, she longed to study giraffes in Africa. Many obstacles including gender discrimination stood in her way, so she hide her female identity to get a job and then traveled to Africa on her own. Anne fulfilled her dream and became the world's leading scientific expert on giraffes, inspiring the next generation of women scientists to pursue their dreams.


Who am I?

I'm a world-class underwater explorer, writer, photographer, speaker, and filmmaker. A pioneer of technical rebreather diving, I have led expeditions into icebergs in Antarctica, volcanic lava tubes, and submerged caves worldwide. As a child, these fanciful places were just a part of my wildest dreams. The Aquanaut tells the story of how I turned my imaginative journeys into reality and became a celebrated underwater explorer.


I wrote...

The Aquanaut

By Jill Heinerth, Jaime Kim (illustrator),

Book cover of The Aquanaut

What is my book about?

This inspiring picture book encourages readers to explore their world, build their self-esteem and imagine what they can do and become when they grow up. Through beautiful, spare text, Jill Heinerth tells her story about a girl who feels too young, too little, and too far away from her dreams. But you don’t need to wait to grow up. It doesn’t take much to imagine all the things you can do and be. What if your bedroom were a space station? What would it be like to have flippers or tusks?

In your own home, you can explore new worlds and meet new friends. Jaime Kim’s luminous art transports readers back and forth through time to see how Jill’s imagination as a young girl laid the pathway to her accomplishments and experiences as an underwater explorer.

Zarafa

By Michael Allin,

Book cover of Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris

I discovered this fascinating and extraordinary story when I was researching tales about travelling with animals for Beastly Journeys. Unlike the other four books in my list, this one has the animal as the central character. And what an animal! Zarafa was captured as a calf in what is now Ethiopia in a plan to cement relationships between the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt and Charles V of France. The year was 1826 and a giraffe had never before been seen in France. Zarafa did the first part of her journey strapped to the back on a camel, and then – surely more comfortably – down the Nile and across the Mediterranean on a brigantine.

A hole was cut in the deck which allowed Zarafa to travel with her body in the hold, while her head and neck enjoyed the human company on deck. From Marseille she was walked, with…


Who am I?

Until I did my own animal-accompanied journey with Mollie and Peggy in 1984, my only association with animals on the trail was inadvertently with a collection of cockroaches in my backpack. It was when Bradt decided to add to their anthologies with a collection of stories about travelling with animals in 2018, Beastly Journeys, that I was able to read a wide variety of books on the topic. A delightful exercise!


I wrote...

A Connemara Journey: A Thousand Miles on Horseback Through Western Ireland

By Hilary Bradt,

Book cover of A Connemara Journey: A Thousand Miles on Horseback Through Western Ireland

What is my book about?

In 1984 I fulfilled a childhood ambition to do a long-distance ride. I chose the west of Ireland for this adventure, and equipped myself to be completely independent without any backup support. Set against the history, legends, landscape, and above all, the people of a now-vanished Ireland, this is a story of joy and tragedy, and particularly of the bond with my two Connemara ponies, Mollie and Peggy.

The Art of Animal Drawing

By Ken Hultgren,

Book cover of The Art of Animal Drawing: Construction, Action Analysis, Caricature

Disney animator Ken Hultgren shares an approach to drawing animals that emphasizes the unique characteristics of all the major types of mammals. His style features action poses ranging from straight to cartoony. His pen-and-ink drawings are usually accompanied by a skeletal analysis to help students see the hidden structure. He never loses sight of the lines of action flowing through a pose, something that both realist painters and cartoonists can benefit from.


Who am I?

My name is James Gurney and I've been a professional illustrator for National Geographic and Scientific American for over 40 years. Although I went to art school, everything I know about drawing and painting comes from studying art instruction books, and from sketching directly from nature. I'm best known for writing and illustrating the New York Times bestselling Dinotopia book series, published in 32 countries and 18 languages. I designed 15 dinosaur stamps for USPS and a set of five dinosaur stamps for Australia Post. My originals have been shown in over 35 solo museum exhibitions. My book Color and Light has sold over 200k copies and was Amazon's #1 bestselling book on painting for over a year.


I wrote...

Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

By James Gurney,

Book cover of Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

What is my book about?

Most art instruction books show you how to draw or paint something you can see: a still life, a landscape, or a portrait. But what if you want to make a realistic picture of something that you can only imagine? This book shows you the time-tested methods used by artists since the Renaissance to bring your dreams into reality.

Amazing Evolution

By Anna Claybourne, Wesley Robins (illustrator),

Book cover of Amazing Evolution: The Journey of Life

I wish I’d had this richly illustrated book as a curious 10-year-old who wanted to learn about evolution in a very fact-based way. Packed with explanations, illustrations, lists, and definitions, Amazing Evolution helps kids self-educate around how and why evolution happened – from the origin of life in the sea to the first creatures to survive on land, through to dinosaurs and convergent evolution in mammals. A great book for an older primary kid who wants to understand how all life is related, but wants to find it out themselves. And the “Fact File” at the end of the book is jam-packed with the kind of amazing information that will make readers want to say “Did you know…?” to everyone they see!


Who am I?

As a kid, I never stopped asking “But why?” Learning the answers always led me to new questions, and I’ve been on a life-long journey to understand the world, and how everything works. I wanted to give the joy of discovery, and the empowerment of understanding, to a new generation of readers. The amazing story of evolution seemed to be a great starting point. I wrote the book I wanted to read to my own daughter, full of adventures and grown-up science, told in a way kids can understand. 


I wrote...

Aunt Jodie's Guide to Evolution

By Jordan Bell,

Book cover of Aunt Jodie's Guide to Evolution

What is my book about?

Join Sophie and Matt as Aunt Jodie takes you on an imagination-expanding journey back in time. Learn about evolution in two different species, millions of years apart: the Plesiads, ancient lemur-like creatures from 55 million years ago, and colour-changing Peppered Moths from the 1800s. What happens to the Plesiads when a volcano erupts? How do the moths survive when their camouflage stops working? Discover the secrets that help all creatures transform and develop when big changes happen in the world around them. For anyone new to science, Aunt Jodie’s Guides also include an easy-to-read glossary, explaining the scientific terms used in the book, and how to pronounce them. 

This book is available on the author's website.

Dear Wandering Wildebeest

By Irene Latham, Anna Wadham (illustrator),

Book cover of Dear Wandering Wildebeest: And Other Poems from the Water Hole

Where to begin? This book covers a wide range of animals found on the African grasslands – impalas, giraffes, oxpeckers, and more – but also includes unlikely (and unseemly) subjects like poop-rolling dung beetles and carcass-cleaning vultures. An especially nice poem, “Tree for All,” written from the tree’s perspective, extolls its virtues by sharing how rhinos, baboons, skinks, safari ants, and other creatures all make use of its resources.


Who am I?

Ever since my parents gave me a copy of Dorothy Aldis’ The Secret Place and Other Poems, I have enjoyed a lifelong love of poetry. Now, as a traditionally-published children’s author, I have had numerous books and poems published over the years, including books that began as poems, like Flashlight Night (Astra Young Readers, 2017) and Once Upon Another Time (Beaming Books, 2021). My poems can be found in various anthologies including The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children's Books, 2015).


I wrote...

Flashlight Night

By Matt Forrest Esenwine, Fred Koehler (illustrator),

Book cover of Flashlight Night

What is my book about?

Flashlight Night is an ode to the power of imagination and the wonder of books. Three children use a flashlight to light a path around their backyard at night; in the flashlight’s beam another world looms. Our heroes encounter spooky woods, a fearsome tiger, a time-forgotten tomb, an Egyptian god, a sword-fighting pirate, and a giant squid. With ingenuity, they vanquish all, then return to their treehouse—braver, closer, and wiser than before—to read the books that inspired their adventure.

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