A Mama for Owen
A Mama for Owen
by John Butler
Simon Schuster, 2007
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Owen the baby hippo and his mama were best friends. They loved to play hide-and-seek on the banks of the Sabaki River in Africa. That was all before the tsunami came and washed Owen's world away.

But after the rain stops, Owen befriends Mzee, a grayish brown tortoise. He plays with him, snuggles with him, and decides he just might turn out to be his best friend and a brand-new mama.

Inspired by the tsunami of 2004, acclaimed storyteller Marion Dane Bauer and celebrated illustrator John Butler depict this heartwarming true tale of healing, adoption, and rebirth -- with splendid illustrations and oodles of love.


Worlds away from Jeanette Winter's retelling, Mama (2006), in which the nearly wordless text and stark design offered youngsters little buffer against Owen's terrifying separation from his mother, Bauer's picture-book version closely matches its narrative and visual tones to its target audience. A rhythmic, lulling narrative smooths the barbed edges of the disaster ("The rain fell and it fell and it fell. The Sabaki River rose and it rose and it rose"), and Butler's feathery illustrations, featuring smiling, doe-eyed animals rendered in soft tones of butter, rose, and lavender, hint at the sunny outcome even during the story's troubling opening scenes.

Composition choices, too, spin the trauma appropriately for the very young; for instance, even as Bauer acknowledges, post-tsunami, that Owen's mother was "lost" and Owen himself was "alone in the sea," Butler's close-up picture avoids the overwhelming, long-distance perspective of a tiny figure dwarfed by the vast ocean ... the book's large format and attractive presentation invites sharing — even with sensitive young listeners.

Jennifer Mattson, Booklist

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