Title: Orangutan Houdini | Author: Laurel Neme | Illustrator: Kathie Kelleher | Publication Date: October 8,2014 | Publisher: Bunker Hill Publishing Inc | Pages: 32 | Recommended Ages: 4 to10 | Reviewed by: Renee (Mother)
Summary: This is the true story of Fu Manchu, an adult male orangutan, who relishes outsmarting his friend, zookeeper Jerry Stones. He does just that when he escapes his enclosure at will and spends sunny days with the elephants in another part of the zoo. At first Jerry believes his staff’s carelessness allowed the crafty ape to get out. But when that assumption proves wrong, he launches an all-out surveillance mission to discover how Fu manages his getaways. Jerry soon discovers that Fu can open the locked door, but can’t figure out how he does it. The zookeeper removes every twig and stick that could be used as a lock pick, but Fu continues to escape. Eventually, Fu reveals to Jerry how he did it, and is rewarded with honorary membership in the American Association of Locksmiths.
My Rapid Review
My Thoughts: In this beautifully-illustrated picture book, children are introduced to the legendary “Fu Manchu”, a clever orangutan who kept his zookeepers on their toes with his ability to repeatedly escape from his enclosure. The book is based on the true story which took place in 1968 at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha Nebraska. Fu’s antics and the relationship he has with Jerry, his keeper were a great joy to read to my children. Overall, they really enjoyed the story.
However, I do have to comment that the story very text-heavy for a picture book and I sometimes felt like it was a bit repetitive (with the multiple escapes). This could be because I was reading it at bedtime when my children were a bit more unfocused than usual. I can’t help but think that if the story was told from only the zookeeper’s perspective and presented as a mystery instead of letting the reader in on Fu’s secret right from the start, that it would be more engaging for children. They could be guessing all along how he is doing it.
Regardless, the full-page illustrations are gorgeous, the orangutans are adorable, and the story is really marvelous. It’s made me an orangutan fan and I’m sure children ages 4 to 10 will feel the same way!
* This book was provided to me by the publisher free-of-charge in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. *
About the Author: Laurel Neme
Laurel Neme has camped in the Kalahari, searched for peregrine falcons in the Arctic, and gotten lost in the Amazon jungle with the Brazilian Federal Police – all in pursuit of knowledge and a good story. She often uncovers true animal tales, like this one, that strike her funny bone while providing insights into a species. She is a contributor to National Geographic and author of Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species. Orangutan Houdini is her first book for children. She lives in Shelburne, Vermont. You can also find her at www.laurelneme.com.