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Orphaned
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published September 25th, 2018 by Scholastic Press

Summary: Before humans, and before human history, there were the apes.
Snub is a young gorilla, living in the heart what will eventually be known as Africa. She is jealous of her mother’s new baby . . . and restless in her need to explore. When a natural disaster shakes up her family, Snub finds herself as the guardian of her young sibling . . . and lost in a reshaped world.

Snub may feel orphaned, but she is not alone. There are other creatures stalking through the woods — a new form of predator, walking on two legs. One of their kind is also orphaned, and is taken in by Snub. But the intersection of the human world and the gorilla world will bring both new connections and new battles.

In his boldest work yet, two-time National Book Award finalist Eliot Schrefer shows us a riveting, heartbreaking early encounter between ape and man — told from the ape’s point of view. It is a journey unlike any other in recent literature.

About the Author: Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.

Praise: “Scientific accuracy paired with lyrical, subjective language describing the young gorilla’s impressions of her surroundings and bodily needs make this book an imaginative, eloquent evocation of a little-known era in prehistory from an animal’s viewpoint. A plausibly authentic account skillfully avoiding risk of excessive anthropomorphism.” – Kirkus Reviews

Review: What a fascinating book! Orphaned is so different than Schrefer’s other novels but in a way that is new and so well done. Where Endangered, Rescued, and Threatened were about humans interacting with apes in a contemporary setting, Orphaned is about apes interacting with early humans in a pre-historic setting. There is no book like this! And it is done beautifully.

When we visited virtually with Eliot Schrefer he shared with us that the story was originally told in prose but his editor, David Levithan, pointed out to him that apes, though intelligent, would not think the way that Eliot writes prose. That their thoughts would be focused on immediate needs and would lack in descriptive and fluffy language. He then completely rewrote the story in verse and WOW! Snub’s voice is perfect.

While I originally thought that the point of view and setting would make the story a challenge, but it was the contrary–it made it just that more interesting!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: What a great mentor text for point of view and setting! Have students write a story with an animals main character in an interesting setting. Then have them change from prose to verse to hone in on the point of view of the animal and make sure they are including the setting as a main aspect of the story.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the inclusion of the ape “language” help with the realism of the story?
  • Why do you think the author included the illustrations of what apes were currently in the story at the top of the page?
  • How did the change from prose to verse storytelling impact the way the story was perceived?
  • How do you think the early humans perceived the gorillas when they interacted with them?
  • How does the point of view shape this story?
  • How did the eruption change the life of the gorillas and early humans?
  • How are gorillas and early humans similar and different?

Flagged Passages: 

Central Eastern Africa
600,000 Years Ago

Until this time, gorillas lived by the millions in a broad band of jungle across Africa. Then a series of volcanic eruptions, many times more foreful than any the modern world has experience, occurred in the Great Rift Valley. The shift in landscape allowed tribes of early humans to travel south into this area for the first time. 

It would be the first meeting between ape and human.

Part One: Home

Rock. Nut.
Snub looks between the two, thinking.
This tree keeps its nuts high in its branches–
a fallen one is a lucky treat.
She imagines rolling the inside nugget in her mouth,
biting its oily flesh.
Tongue between her teeth, brow scrunched,
she raps the rock on top of the nut.
It does not crack.
She licks the rock.
The rock tastes like rock.
She licks the nut.
The nut tastes like dirt.
Snub twists the woody halves.
They will not part.
Opening nuts is Mother’s job,
but Mother let Snub go off alone.

                                                                              mrgh. 

Fresh fury surges.
Snub hurts the nut, aiming
at a pair of magpies.
It goes wide and disappears into the foliage.
Worthless nut.
Snub looks to see if anyone has
been impressed by her rage.
But this only reminds her:
Her family is not here.”

Read This If You Love: The Ape Quartet books #1-3, Early humans, Gorillas

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