For ages 8+
Here I am again with a book to take me on a journey half way round the world… this time I’m heading to the island of Serendip (the old Persian word for Sri Lanka). Author, Nizrana Farook, whisked us to fictional Sri Lanka in 2021 with her brilliant adventure ‘The Boy Who Met A Whale’, and in 2020 with her best selling debut ‘The Girl Who Stole An Elephant’. Each of Farook’s best-selling books are centred around the relationship between a child and an endangered or mistreated animal. These stories are so accessible particularly for reading to children in classrooms as the books aren’t too thick; they are fast paced and filled with empathy and compassion development opportunities. Debates and activities linked to these stories around conservation, poaching and the environment will be lively and creative, you can mark my word!
The authenticity of Farook’s writing, which is beautifully complimented with illustrations by David Dean, keep readers engaged and on the edge of their seats, who are transitioning between highly illustrated young readers to more sophisticated full text middle grades. Also, I love a map, and Dean’s map at the start of the book brilliantly provides an ideal reference for the reader to return to throughout the story. Each new chapter features beautifully detailed illustrations that reflect the pace of the adventure.
About the story
Our protagonist is Selvi, is a girl living on the island of Serendip with her mother, who works incredibly hard to make ends meet. They lead a simple life in an area surrounded by mountains, jungle and wildlife. The story begins, and we are introduced to Selvi’s best friend in the whole world - Lokka, a wild leopard. Not just any leopard, but one with rare golden ring patterned fur. Farook sets an inspiring scene describing the beautiful mountainous surroundings, the flowers and trees that are to be found in Sri Lanka, her home country.
The timeline of the book begins with a poacher’s arrow shooting towards Lokka. The reader follows Selvi and her experiences along a gripping adventure as she tries to prevent Lokka’s capture and being sold to the highest bidder by the poaching ring boss’s deadline. Woven seamlessly around the key conservation storyline is Selvi’s own emotional journey and friendship development. She has only recently been ‘allowed’ to attend school. Her mother’s brother (Uncle Kangaraja, a local man of status and power) had managed to keep her from school for so long and only with the influence and persistence of local teacher, Miss Heba, Selvi’s mother finally relents. Selvi’s world had been so small, traditional, simple. Going to school, already such a headstrong and self-sufficient girl (who can climb any mountain), she has to learn the difference between her friendship with Lokka and her friendships with the children from her new school whom she must learn to trust .
One day, one of the ‘mean’ kids in the class, Amir, discovers Selvi’s secret friendship with Lokka. What follows is a testing scenario of whether to let anyone into her world, a world that is emotive and fragile - just for her and Lokka. As with any child who is vulnerable, but incredibly tough, it’s not easy to trust and let others in, especially when the very little they hold sacred is at risk of being taken away. Forced to take a leap of faith following a near death accident when Amir, Selvi and Lokka fall over a precipice (I know!), Selvi realises that she alone won’t be able to outwit the poachers to keep Lokka safe.
Gradually the chatter in the classroom turns more and more to leopards and in a lovely moment we learn about Selvi’s fondness for her new teacher who “didn’t like being disturbed, but if there was a topic that everyone was interested in, she’d stop the lesson and discuss it.” The children learn that although there are leopards all over the island regardless of the change in landscape, there is a growing issue that where the number of humans increase, then the leopards’ territory decreases. This is unfortunately when a leopard can stray into a village and get killed to protect villagers. A debate occurs between the children at one point as to whether it is right to kill them, even for money; and in Lokka’s case, he’s rare and worth a fortune!
During a visit to Selvi’s Uncle’s house. Selvi discovers something truly alarming (I won’t ruin it for you!). There’s a banging at the door, it’s the children from school who have come to ‘rescue’ Selvi… they employ Satyagraha (Sanskrit, meaning "Truth-force”)… sitting in silent protest together at the front of the house refusing to leave… a non-violent philosophy term coined by Mahatma Gandhi in the early 1900s in India. The children had come to realise that the priority is to rescue, conserve, protect wild animals from all humans, even those who mean no harm like Selvi and her loyal friends, who had also learned to love Lokka.
Will they manage to stop the poaching ring and save Lokka before it’s too late!?
One of my favourite atmospheric scenes is when Selvi and Amir spot Lokka in the wild “gazing over his kingdom majestically” surrounded by the beautiful Serendip flowers, trees and mountains. Farook’s storytelling is engaging and relatable, taking friendship journeys children experience all around the world and placing them in a stunning setting steeped in rich and beautiful Sri Lankan culture and landscapes, whilst raising awareness of animal protection. I genuinely look forward to the new year knowing there's going to be new Nizrana Farook middle grade adventure out soon!!
Here are some photos of some of the beautiful flowers described by Farook in the story:
Find out more about ‘The Leopard Project’ in Sri Lanka:
The Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust
About the creators
Nizrana Farook (author)
Nizrana Farook was born and raised in Columbo, Sri Lanka, and the beautiful landscapes of her home country somehow always find their way into her stories. She has a master’s degree in writing for young people, and lives with her family in Hertfordshire.
David Dean (illustrator)
David Dean is a full-time illustrator who enjoys travelling the world from the comfort of his own studio. Known for his exotic and colourful painting, David works in a room surrounded by books from many different cultures, from which he finds inspiration. In his spare time, David enjoys walking the countryside near his house in Cheshire, taking photographs of the things he sees.
Grab a copy
Buy here through my affiliate link at Bookshop.org or purchase from your local independent bookshop...
Publication date: 7 April 2022
Also available from Nizrana Farook and illustrated by David Dean:
'The Boy Who Met A Whale', 2021, Nosy Crow
'The Girl Who Stole An Elephant', 2020, Nosy Crow
*Nosy Crow provided me with a review copy of 'The Girl Who Lost a Leopard'.
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