The moment I saw the cover of A Mama for Owen, I knew I had to read this book. Is there anything more adorable than this mismatched pair? Then I heard the premise of the story and I rushed right out to pick it up. Not only is this an incredibly sweet story written by Marion Dane Bauer, but it is matched with incredibly adorable illustrations by John Butler. Oh and did I mention it's based on a true story?
The story follows Owen, a young hippopotamus who lives with his mother and family on the Sabaki River in Africa. Owen follows his mother everywhere and they often play hide-and-seek. When he is tired, he snuggles with his mother to take a nap. But his easy life is short lived. A tsunami comes and Owen and his family are washed out to sea. Owen survives and is swept back into shore, but no where near his river. His family is lost. Owen is unsure what to do until he finds a shape on the beach that is the same color as his mother. He settles down next to the lump and tries to fall asleep. The object is none other than a tortoise named Mzee. Mzee lets the young hippo curl up and slowly becomes a substitute mother for Owen.
The story is a fictionalized account of a true story that occurred right after the 2004 tsunami. In the real story the young hippo, who was less than a year old, was washed out to sea by the wave and when he was found was brought to a wildlife preserve and there met Mzee. But I think the changes made were perfect for this story. The tale could be very sad but Bauer infuses humor in to lighten the story. She describes Owen's mother (and Mzee) as "grayish-brown--or was she brownish-gray?" She adds images like Owen following his mother's stubby tail or playing hide-and-seek with Mzee. One of my favorite pages was one of the later ones. I love the humor of these lines. "And whenever Mzee takes a nap, tucked away inside his brownish-gray--or is it grayish-brown?--shell, Owen waits and waits and waits until he can find Mzee once more. Bauer does a wonderful job of creating a soft gentle rhyme of lines along with some pretty wonderful characters.
But it was John Butler's illustrations that originally drew my eye, and give this book the softness and cuteness that made my heart melt. Owen is simply adorable with his large soft eyes and innocent expressions. Mzee is a warm and sweet character who readers will fall in love with. His smiles and easy-going-nature will make readers cheer for this unlikely pair. The illustrations are done in acrylic paint and colored pencils and have a perfect palette. The book is filled with gentle yellows and oranges and everything is blended to produce soft images. The backgrounds are often just bits of color but the characters are much sharper. Emotions are clearly distinguishable on ever page. I have to admit that I got a bit chocked up reading this book. And with good reason. This is an incredibly sweet story and that fact that it is true, only makes it that much more wonderful. A great read-aloud and a perfect find for any animal lover.