By: Deborah Stevenson
Illustrated by: Morgan Spicer
Publisher: Frog Prince Books
Publication Date: September 2018
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Ayubu (pronounced ah-YOO-boo) is a baby rhino living on the African savanna. Under his mother's careful watch, he romps along the open grasslands and plays with friends at the local watering hole. Life is good for Ayubu, but that is all about to change...
While Ayubu plays in the water, it's not just his mother that keeps an eye on him, but also Imari, a cattle egret who removes the insects and ticks from the rhinos' backs. In exchange, the egret alerts the rhinos to danger that he can spot while flying high above the savannah. Ayubu notices that his mother and Imari are always on the lookout for danger, and he quickly learns that they fear not just lions and other carnivores, but also human poachers.
One evening, while listening to a story about his father and sister (who had been lost to poachers), Ayubu is startled when a herd of springboks come flying by them. "Poachers," screams Imari and they are all instantly on their feet and running for the safety of the brush. A narrow escape from the humans teaches Ayubu to always be on guard but unfortunately, it isn't long before his mother falls victim to the humans' appetite for rhino horns.
The bulk of The Last Rhino follows Ayubu as he grows up without his mother by his side, and shares exploits with his new best friend Raziya, a baby elephant. They go on fun adventures, meet a pair of very goofy monkeys, and even stumble upon a pride of lions. Of course, the presence of poachers is always of concern, and as Ayubu matures, and his horn grows, the danger becomes more pressing. A final showdown, where Ayubu will risk everything to help his dear friend Raziya, brings the story to a final, satisfying ending, and will have children clutching the pages to see what happens...
The Last Rhino is an early-reader chapter book that quickly engages the reader with a fun story. The writing is crisp, the dialogue believable (as long as you are willing to believe that animals talk and play "I Spy"), and the important message about conservation isn't thrust upon the reader but gently becomes a part of the story. The death of Ayubu's mother is handled perfectly, with her falling into a poacher's pit and that is the last we see of her. There are lovely drawings throughout, and on the pages between chapters where there is no text, the publisher has covered the page with a pretty African pattern. Finally, at the back of the book are several informational pages, including a page with proper pronunciation of the African names in the story, fun facts about rhinos, about symbiosis with birds, and what the reader can do to help rhinos. This book is the "total package" for young readers to learn about, and learn to care about, rhinos.
Quill says: The Last Rhino is an excellent book for young readers who will discover a fun story that also teaches a very important lesson about conservation. After reading this book, they will be inspired to help and armed with the information at the back of the book, they'll know how to get started on their quest to save the rhinos.