2012

Endangered

By Eliot Schrefer

Current & Digital Publisher: Scholastic

Reading Level: Ages 12 & Up

Lilli Leight writes:

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer is an amazing story of friendship and loyalty. The story follows the adventures of a young girl named Sophie while she is visiting her mother’s Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On her way to the sanctuary Sophie rescues Otto, a baby Bonobo, from a cruel master. As violence breaks out all over the Congo, Sophie is given the opportunity to travel back to her family—home in the safety of the United States, but she cannot bear to leave baby Otto behind. While Sophie's mother is out of the sanctuary releasing Bonobos into the wild, the violence makes its way to the sanctuary where Sophie is left all by herself. Endangered brings to life the adventures of Sophie and Otto as they travel together through Congo with hopes of finding and being reunited with Sophie’s mother. This one-of-a-kind book details how a relationship between a human and animal can be possible, even incredible, and can even save the lives of the animals and humans around them.  

Endangered will appeal to the animal lover, as well as to the individual who doubts the possibility of such a relationship.

Lilli Leight was a 2012 Innovations in Reading Prize winner. A high school student in Florida, Leight founded a giving library in the Family Resource Center at Chapman Partnership, where she volunteers with homeless and struggling families.

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Diane P. Tuccillo writes:

Last summer at the American Library Association conference in Anaheim, I had the pleasure of attending the annual Scholastic Literary Brunch. At the brunch, we had the opportunity to hear about the latest and the greatest of Scholastic’s offerings for teenagers and had the privilege of hearing the authors themselves reading from and sharing information about their books.

One of those authors was Eliot Schrefer, who read from his book Endangered and gave us some background about the amazing primates called bonobos who play a vital role in the story. Not only was I enthralled to learn about these fascinating animals who are so close to humans in their DNA makeup, I was equally saddened to learn of their plight as the most endangered of the great apes. Due to hunting bonobos for food, selling their young as pets, and conducting commercial logging, which decreases the limited bonobo habitat of the Congo rain forest, humans are the root cause of the problem, as is often sadly the case regarding the demise of so much of the world’s spectacular wildlife.

With these things in mind, I read Endangered. I expected it to be interesting and compelling, but little did I know that I would be reading a book that would quickly become one of my all-time favorites. I was completely drawn in by the main character, Sophie, who has flown from her home in the U.S., where she lives with her father, to Africa where she will spend the summer with her mother. Her mother runs a sanctuary in Congo for the endangered bonobos. Sophie knows the important rule—never, ever give money to a poacher who is selling a baby bonobo because it encourages poachers to continue taking the infants. However, when she sees the plight of a captured baby, Sophie cannot resist, and she disobeys by buying him. When she arrives at her mother’s sanctuary, it is with an underfed, ill, and injured baby bonobo in tow that she has named Otto and has already bonded with.

Little does Sophie know that dealing with her mother’s anger and disappointment while nursing Otto back to health will be the least of her challenges. When a powerful coup takes place in the Congo, violent soldiers come and take over the sanctuary and kill the staff. Sophie and Otto barely escape, and Sophie’s only hope for her mother’s safety is the fact that she was gone on a journey at the time to return a bonobo to the wild.

Now Sophie and Otto are on the run. The rest of the novel takes them on one dangerous path after another, plagued by almost insurmountable obstacles. As part of her escape, Sophie must infiltrate bonobo society and work toward acceptance by the animals, which in many ways is easier than dealing with some of the humans she meets. Through grueling adventures and horrific encounters, Sophie perseveres as she and Otto move toward the book’s unexpectedly hopeful conclusion.

I was not surprised that Endangered was selected as a National Book Award Finalist. The skilled writing, vivid settings, and clearly drawn characters—both humans and bonobos—bring this story to life. And since Bookends, a joint literacy project between my library district and our local school district, was selected as an Innovations in Reading Prize winner for 2013, I also had the good fortune to witness Schrefer receiving his National Book Award Finalist medal and to once again hear him read from his book at the Finalists Reading in New York last November. Afterwards, I researched Schrefer and his writing, and in doing so I learned something truly exciting. He was so captivated by creating this story that he is planning to write three more books featuring great apes. Here is what he says on his webpage:

“I never thought I was a monkey person—not that that’s an actual type, I think—but I’ve fallen in love with the great apes. I’m at work on a great ape quartet of novels, each about a young person’s relationship to the great apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and finally gorillas) set against the backdrop of their home countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Indonesia, and Rwanda, respectively). The novel about chimpanzees will be published by Scholastic in Spring 2014. Orangutans, you’re up next!”

What wonderful news for us fans of Endangered! We will have some special new books to look forward to, I am sure.

Diane P. Tuccillo has been Teen Services Librarian at the Poudre River Public Library District in Fort Collins, Colorado since 2007. She has worked with teens in libraries for over thirty years and regularly contributes professionally with articles, book reviews, presentations, as an officer, and on various committees. She is the author of Library Teen Advisory Groups (Scarecrow, 2005) and Teen-Centered Library Service: Putting Youth Participation into Practice (Libraries Unlimited, 2010).

About the author, Eliot Schrefer: Eliot Schrefer's Website

Reviews of Endangered:

Recent articles about bonobos:

Online videos about bonobos: Taboh, Julie. Free-Loving “Hippie Chimps” Face Extinction. Includes ‘video, “‘Hippie Chimps’ Face Extinction,” courtesy of Michael Werner. Voice of America. June 11, 2012.

Websites:

Nonfiction about bonobos:

  • Apes, Language, and the Human Mind by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Stuart G. Shanker, and Talbot J. Taylor (Oxford University Press, 1998)
  • Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape by Frans De Waal and Frans Lanting (University of California Press, 1997)
  • Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo by Vanessa Woods (Gotham Books, 2010)

Fiction about bonobos: Ape House: A Novel by Sara Gruen (Spiegel & Grau, 2010) 

Video recordings about bonobos:

  • “Ape Genius: What Separates Apes from Humans”
    Written, produced, and directed by John Rubin; a production of NOVA and National Geographic Television in association with John Rubin Productions, Inc., Boston: WGBH Boston Video, 2008.
  • “The Last Great Ape”
    Produced and directed by Steve Greenwood; a British Broadcasting Corporation production; NOVA, Boston: WGBH Boston Video, 2007.

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YPL Finalists That Year:

  • Carrie Arcos for Out of Reach
  • Patricia McCormick for Never Fall Down
  • Eliot Schrefer for Endangered
  • Steve Sheinkin for Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon

YPL Winner That Year: William Alexander for Goblin Secrets

Judges That Year: Judith Ortiz Cofer, Susan Cooper, Daniel EhrenhaftGary D. SchmidtMarly Youmans

The Year in Literature: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos won the Newbery Medal.  Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley won the Printz Award.

More Information: In an interview with himself on his website, Schrefer writes: “My favorite writer is E.M. Forster. Particularly Howard’s End. His language is unpretentious, his plots engaging, and his paragraphs will crack open with these profound, unexpected insights. For similar reasons I’ll also read anything by Lorrie Moore, Edith Wharton, Michael Cunningham, Julia Glass, Nicola Griffith, or Dorothy Parker. That would be some dinner party, wouldn’t it?”

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