Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship Book Poster Image
Inspirational story about friendship and eco-action.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The story not only teaches that unusual friendships can develop among animals, but also that they can learn to communicate with each other. End notes also teach about Kenya, the Haller Park animal preserve, hippos, and the Aldabra tortoise.

Positive Messages

The amazing friendship of Owen and Mzee shows that friends come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the best friendships are the unexpected ones. Friends, even animal friends, can develop special ways of communicating. Also, this book has a strong message about the importance of restoring wildlife habitats.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this second Owen and Mzee book recaps, and continues, the story told in the bestselling book Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship.

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What's the story?

For over a year and a half, Owen the baby hippo and Mzee the Aldabra tortoise have lived together in Haller Park in Kenya. They are inseparable. Even though Mzee had been a loner, and is 130 years old, he took care of the baby hippo, taught him to graze, and so on, which is very unusual for an animal that does not even raise its own young. Now they seen to have developed several ways of communicating with each other, from nips and pokes to actual vocalizations that seem to carry meaning. It leaves the reader to ponder what the future holds for Owen, in particular. But this book is about more than just a special relationship between two unusual animals. It is also an inspirational story about the people who are committed to restoring endangered, and fragile, ecosystems in Kenya, which is why it won the Christopher Award.

Is it any good?

The story of Owen and Mzee is an amazing one in itself, and these authors and their photographer did a wonderful job of capturing it for the rest of us. The writing is informative, not too simple, not too complicated, and the captioned photos are fascinating, and genuine; Nothing is posed here. In one photo the lumbering tortoise walks down a forest path with the hippo by his side, another shows them nestled up together, a string of others show ways they are communicating. This is photo-journalism at its effective best. Though technically this is a sequel to the first book, it does recap the whole story thus far and can be read on its own.

Photographs by photo-journalist Peter Greste give a very realistic and sensitve look into the world of Owen and Mzee. Especially fascinating is the series of photos depicting the various ways the two animals communicate with each other. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about friendship, of course. What is so unusual about the friendship between Owen and Mzee? Why do you think they are so attached to one another? How did Mzee learn to take care of Owen? Owen is still young, but Mzee is over 130 years old. What do you think will happen as they each get older? Have you ever known, or heard of, any other strange animal relationships?

  • How do Owen and Mzee communicate?  What kinds of sounds do they make? What kinds of gestures? How do you think they learned their special language? Do you think other animals communicate?

  • Do you think Owen realizes he is a hippo? Or do you think he thinks he is a tortoise, like Mzee?

  • What does it mean to "restore an environment?" What is a quarry? How do you think they turned it back into a forest?

Book details

For kids who love animals and the environment

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