LEGS; THE STORY OF A GIRAFFE. Phyliss Barber. Illustrated by Ann Baumann. Macmillan/Margaret K. McElderry, 1991. 80 pages, $13.95.
The giraffe was named Imburuqutu, which in Swahili means "long neck and sticking-up ears." As a newborn, Imburuqutu is protected by his mother and later an auntie cow who nudges him into safe territory and provides proper food. The young giraffe sees his mother killed, "Underneath an umbrella acacia tree, his own mother had fallen into dust that whirled like fright. Two wawindaji were standing over her with smoking sticks on their shoulders." A friendly starling's song assures him, "You're not alone."Imburuqutu is captured and put on a boat to be taken as a new exhibit in the zoo where he finds that the sun, "his most loyal friend," is with him in that strange place as well. The young giraffe is befriended by a black guinea hen and Onasa, caretaker of all the giraffes, Buringo and Masai.
"Legs" is a sweet story combining both a fictional glimpse into the animal world and the sadness of captivity. Barber, while telling the story smoothly and without hesitation to the disasters of death in the wilds, includes much about giraffes and their habitat. She uses Swahili words in context to describe the animals and terrain while allowing a teacher to give explanations to a group of schoolchildren, "Even though the giraffe has that big long neck . . . it has only seven neck bones, just like you . . . and look at the tail. Ancient Egyptians used that black hair for stringing beads and ornaments. Modern-day Africans make bracelets and necklaces with the hair . . . "
Baumann's detailed pencil drawings provide insight to the skin patterns on the animals and vegetation that are placed in real-life settings. Readers in grades four through six will love this story because it is based on actual happenings.
Barber is the author of "The School of Love," a collection of short stories, "And the Desert Shall Blossom," a novel, and "Smiley Snake's Adventure," a book in verse for children. Before moving to Colorado, the author lived in Salt Lake City. She will return to Park City on June 21-26 to participate in the Writers at Work Conference.