Friday, June 6, 2014

Gemina, The Crooked-Neck Giraffe & author interview

Gemina, The Crooked-Neck Giraffe
by Karen B. Winnick
40 pages; ages 4-8
Santa Barbara Zoo Press, 2013

Themes: animals, differences, nonfiction

"Gemina stood out from all the others at the Santa Barbara Zoo. She was the famous crooked-neck giraffe"

Gemina didn't always have a crooked neck. When she was born, she looked like all the other baby giraffes - wobbly-legged and nearly six-feet tall. But when she was three, a bump appeared on the side of her neck. It got bigger and bigger, and made Gemina's neck crooked. The zoo veterinarians took X-rays and examined her, but no one knew what caused the crook in her neck.

What I like about this book: Everyone accepts Gemina, from the other giraffes to the visitors at the zoo. Kids and parents and grandparents stand in line to offer her a special giraffe biscuit. "That giraffe has a bump like me," says a boy with scoliosis. Clearly, Gemina helped people feel better about themselves - and kids responded by sending her letters and drawings - some of which are featured on the endpapers.

Beyond the book: June is national Zoo & Aquarium month - a perfect time to head to your local zoo and do some giraffe-watching. Many zoos have elevated viewing platforms so you can say hello to the giraffes eye-to-eye. It's fun to watch how they eat - and take a good look at their tongues. What color are they? How long are they? How do they pick up food?

Spot Patterns. Spots help camouflage giraffes in the wild. The spots make it possible for giraffes to blend in with the dappled shade of trees, making it harder for predators to identify them as "dinner". Different species of giraffe have different spot patterns. Check out the different patterns of giraffe spots here - then draw a pattern that you would want if you were a giraffe.

New to the Zoo. What happens when a new giraffe is introduced into the zoo herd? Here's a video from the San Diego Zoo showing Leroy's first day with the other giraffes. Lower on the page you'll find lots of good information about life as a giraffe, from meals to nap time to the diversity of sounds giraffes make.

Three Questions
I recently had a chance to ask author Karen Winnick about her book. 

Sally: What inspired you to write about Gemina? 

Karen: On a visit to the Santa Barbara Zoo I met Gemina. I fed her biscuits and was struck by her gentle, friendly demeanor. Her crooked neck was very noticeable yet it didn't seem to bother her. She walked around with the other giraffes as part of the group. Gemina appeared comfortable with herself and her environment. I took a photo of her, framed it and continued to think about her. I thought about what an inspiration she was to me and to others. Later I contacted the Zoo and asked if I could write about her.

Sally: When she came to the Zoo, where there other young giraffes she could play with? What sort of "play" do giraffe kids engage in?

Karen:  As a young giraffe, Gemina was in the yard with other calves. She kicked out her legs and jumped and ran all over just as the others did. That's how giraffe calves play. Often they run back to their mother's side for protection. In the wild, young calves are left in a group, a giraffe "nursery" with one adult female watching over them while their mothers go off to feed.  

Sally: Zoos are more than places to see animals. Why are they important?

Karen:  I'm very involved with zoos and feel very strongly about their importance. Sadly, all over the world many animals are threatened with extinction. Their habitat is shrinking, even disappearing mostly due to human encroachment. Animals are being killed needlessly.

Today's zoos not only provide children and adults with the opportunity to see animals they might never have a chance to see, but zoos are also working hard to save species. Zoos that exhibit a species often contribute funds to help those animals in the wild. Zoos all over are breeding animals and sometimes, when possible, releasing them back into their natural habitat. Zoos are also educating young people about animals and their environment and about the importance of conservation. 

You can find out more about Karen and her books at her website.

Drop by STEM Friday to see what other science books and resources bloggers are sharing. Today's review is also part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media.


  1. I enjoyed this post quite a lot. Here in Glen Rose, we have a drive through wild animal park called Fossil Rim. They are devoted to the preservation of endangered animals. There are giraffes there that you can watch and feed from your car. And - they used to have a zebra with a crooked neck! Very much like Gemina! I'll have to look for this book! Thanks for sharing!

    1. wow! a zebra with a crooked neck? That's interesting...

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I immediately thought that kids with scoliosis would identify with Gemina and then saw it mentioned in the story. Such an inspirational story. I enjoyed watiching the video as I know little about the behavior of giraffes. And, I liked hearing from the author and how she began to write a story about Gemina.

    1. thanks for dropping by - yes, I agree - a good story for sharing with kids with scoliosis.

  3. Sounds wonderful - have been to the Santa Barbara Zoo (though it has been over 20 years, so Gemima wasn't there) - wanna read/check this one out for sure. Sounds like a great message.

  4. Lovely post, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Video was beautiful. Thanks for sharing.