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The Zebra ‘s Great Escape

Authored by Katherine Rundell
Illustrated by Sara Oglivie
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

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A wild, adventurous girl teams up with a young zebra in order to rescue an alphabet of animals from a cruel prison.

The aptly named young hero of this animal story, Mink, is out playing one evening when she is approached by a young zebra. When the zebra touches his lips to Mink’s head, she discovers that she can understand what he is saying; the clouds of colours he sends form pictures in her mind. He tells her the story of how he escaped from a man who captured his parents and has taken them off in a van. Mink would like to tell her father as he would know what to do, however, the zebra, whose name is Gabriel, persuades her that adults would rather follow rules and he would end up in a zoo without ever finding his parents. With the help of a dog called Rainbow and a squirrel called Rodentia, Mink and Gabriel track down his missing parents along with a whole host of other animals who have been captured by the evil Mr Spit.

The Zebra ‘s Great Escape is a wonderfully imaginative story with a plucky, rebellious young heroine at the heart of it. Sara Ogilvie’s colourful and striking illustrations are full of movement and bring this story to life. I particularly enjoyed trying to match all the animal names to the creatures in the pictures once Mink and Gabriel had found the alphabet of animals. Mr Spit displays the very worst characteristics of humans who think that animals are only here for their pleasure. He doesn’t want to hear their noise and he doesn’t want them to be free, he just wants to enjoy looking at them. Once Mink and Gabriel free the animals, Mr Spit soon learns his lesson!

This book is split into three parts, which would be helpful for reading at story time as it is quite a bit longer than most picture books. The story would be a great discussion starter on the rights of animals and how humans treat animals, as well as the morality of keeping animals in zoos. Mink’s decision to help Gabriel without telling her parents is also something that could prompt valuable discussion, as I think it is important that children understand when they should ask adults for help. The alphabet of animals is particularly engrossing and introduces a wide range of creatures which children may be keen to research. I think this story would be suitable for children aged 5+ but would it make a particularly good story time or guided reading book for Years 2, 3 and 4.

Longlisted for the UKLA 2024 Book Awards 3-6 Category