St. John, whose author's note explains that she grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe that was partially a game reserve, brings characters and setting to life with equal clarity in her debut children's book. Her tale centers on recently orphaned Martine, who moves from England to South Africa to live with the grandmother she's never met. The woman, whose husband died at the hands of animal poachers, owns Sawubona, a game reserve and wildlife sanctuary. Soon after the 11-year-old's arrival, a Zulu healer with second sight tells the girl that she has a special gift and warns her that it "can be a blessin' or a curse. Make your decisions wisely." The perceptive woman also mentions there are "too many secrets at Sawubona"; indeed, Martine's many questions to her stony grandmother are met by a "wall of silence." Martine is intrigued by rumors that an elusive white giraffe resides on the grounds of the reserve--a local legend holds that the child who is able to ride a white giraffe will have power over all the animals. When she encounters the gentle creature one night, she feels an immediate bond and even knows what he's thinking. And though it comes as no surprise that she is the youngster capable of fulfilling the legend, St. John provides plenty of unexpected twists. For his part, Dean contributes charming watercolor illustrations that open each chapter. A fast pace, strong supporting cast and ample drama--including an especially theatrical finale--will serve the story well in its film adaptation, which Walden Media is developing with Twentieth Century Fox. Ages 8-up. (May)[Page 63]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Gr 4-7-- Imagine the rich surroundings of South African wildlife, the mystical stories surrounding a rare white giraffe, and an orphaned girl. Such is the backdrop for this heartwarming story. When her parents are killed in a house fire, Martine, 11, is sent to live with a grandmother she didn't know she had at a wildlife sanctuary. The cold, hands-off woman offers little comfort to a displaced, grieving child, leaving Martine to fend for herself in a foreign land. When a local woman tells the child that she has "the gift," Martine doesn't know what it is or why she would have it. Then she learns of a white giraffe and poachers' intent on capturing it. The story unfolds into a legendary tale full of intrigue and what life demands of a young chosen one. African folklore adds a touch of magic to the story and will help readers understand the supernatural beliefs of an ancient culture. Enjoyable characters offer a glimpse of local culture through Tendai, a Zulu tribesman, and the local mystic, appropriately named Grace. The bush healing techniques are especially interesting. Although a few sections need more fleshing out, the story is captivating and well spun.--Robyn Gioia, Bolles School, Ponte Vedra, FL[Page 162]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.