One of the things I love about picture books is the growing trend right now towards creative nonfiction stories. Real stories that are brought to life in colorful, easy-to-read, and narrative ways. The Chiru of High Tibet by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Linda S. Wingerter, is one of these books.
I found this book, published in 2010, to be a perfect meshing of fact and narrative. The story has an arc, has suspense, has characters we care about, all the while giving us information on an animal species most of us probably have never heard of, and a region of the world that we probably will never go to. Some of the facts are woven into the story, but there are also subtle side boxes to give us even more.
Chiru are deer or antelope like animals, living live in the mountainous Chang Tang region of Northern Tibet, whose fur is extremely soft and luxurious. The chiru migrate through the mountains each year to an unknown location to birth and raise their babies. People did not know where this area was, but when they discovered that the fur made a wonderfully warm wrap, they were quite able to kill the adults in their summer lands. Eventually, like many other species in a similar situation, this population began to lessen. The crux of the book asks “In the wide, unpeople plains, who would care if the chiru disappeared?”
Who cares, is what the rest of the story is about. It tells of one man who tried to find and protect the chiru calving grounds, but failed. Then there was the expedition of four explorers who took up that quest to protect the chiru. They trekked across Tibet through harsh conditions to follow the chiru to the calving grounds, and find a way to protect this land.
This book is nonfiction, done in a creative way. I may never see a chiru in high Tibet, but this picture book made me care about them, made me wonder just how soft that chiru fur is, and made me quickly turn each page to find out what happens next in their story.
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