Orangutanka: A Story in Poems

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Orangutanka: A Story in Poems Book Poster Image
Beautiful, joyful peek at family in the wild.

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age 5+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

An introduction to tanka poems with a preface explaining the traditional Japanese and modern forms of tanka. Notes at the end share facts about orangutans and their endangered status, links to online resources, and children's books.

Positive Messages

Animal families can have much in common with human families. Extended families offer a loving safety net for children. Despite differences -- here, generational and between humans and animals -- there are opportunities for connecting with joy and wonder.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Big sister and her grandma are brave and bold. Both mother and grandmother are attentive and loving. Rangers tend to the orangutans.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Orangutanka, a delightful picture book by Margarita Engle (Drum Dream Girl), is an intimate portrayal of an orangutan family. Humans keep a mostly respectful distance until they encounter a lone orangutan on the forest floor. The young orangutan is briefly separated from her family but is never out of her family's sight or care. Notes from the author introduce tanka poetry and provide key facts about orangutans, including information and resources regarding their endangered status.

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What's the story?

A baby orangutan and his family slowly start their day in a refuge forest -- except for big sister, who leaps among the trees and plays amid the vines. After a meal of fruit, the family snoozes through the afternoon heat -- except for the always playful big sister. But the fun wears off as rain pours down and the sister finds herself alone among a crowd of people. Her grandma climbs down to comfort her and cheer her up, drawing her back into the family fold.

Is it any good?

Words and art a weave a mesmerizing rhythm in this gorgeous book about a family of orangutans in a wildlife refuge. Moving easily between sweet, intimate moments and exuberant activity, ORANGUTANKA is an attentive snapshot of a family.

Renée Kurilla's digitally colored pencil-and-ink illustrations are lush and vibrant, rich with expression and depth. Margarita Engle's text is full of expressive movement: Papa is so huge "his great weight makes/low branches waltz slowly," while his active daughter explores the forest with "hip-hop somersaults and cartwheels,/cha-cha-cha--/so many forms of orangudance/with lively arms and legs." Readers of all ages won't be able to resist trying an orangudance of their own.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the words and images change with the text. Compare the pages about "massive" papa with those showing big sister's "orangudance."

  • How is the orangutan family like your own? How is it different?

  • Try writing a tanka poem in either the traditional or modern style. Families can extend the exercise by talking about haiku, sonnets, and other structured forms of writing.

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and animal stories

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