A Mom for Umande
By Maria Faulconer; illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
Remember the 1960 non-fiction book by Joy Adamson called Born Free? It recalled the rescue of a motherless lion cub christened Elsa, by Joy and her husband, George. They raised the cub as their own, eventually releasing it into the Kenyan wilderness. The New York Times called it “a fascinating and remarkable book.” It also became a great motion picture in 1966 with the same name. And as Mother’s Day approaches, that event reminded me of a great picture book called A Mom for Umande. Umande is a sweet picture book about a newborn gorilla with a name in Swahili that means “swirling mists” by the way. And his is a real story of finding a mom.
Motherhood takes a very special skill set. It’s made up of compassion, insight, self-sacrifice, doctoring skills, and a host of others that are learned along the way. Thank goodness, there are mothers that are made and not born in the usual sense of the word. These are the women and yes, even men, that have an innate feeling for what is needed by a particular child that may not be their own by birth, but is in need of nurturing just the same. All of us have the desire to be mothered a bit, whether man or animal. And in the case of Elsa, the lioness in Born Free, the reader discovers that some bonds are made and not born through birth!
The same holds true in the real-life case of Umande featuring a great picture book about a young gorilla whose mom, Kwisha does NOT have the skill set to mother him. Enter an interim group of human mothers that step in at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado until the real thing comes along!
For a period of eight months, these zookeepers stepped in for Umande’s mom. Just how do you teach a gorilla to WALK without mom around to give instruction? Why you simply crawl around on the ground with him. Discipline? It’s easy enough to do if you cough in his face as a correction. And as for encouragement, you need only mimic some happy gorilla-like grumbling sounds! Remember that skill set for mothering that I mentioned? The “will to love” is an important part of it since the learning curve can be pretty steep some time! Kids will get a new appreciation for what these substitute Umande moms commit to as they teach him what it is to be a gorilla, 24/7! Talk about compassionate care! Susan Kathleen Hartung’s illustrations bring the cuddly Umande to life as his small cries seem to say, “Will you hold me?” She has complemented Umande’s journey perfectly with art that serves as a great vehicle to share his real life story.
The zookeepers can eventually see that something is missing for Umande. And as they seek a gorilla mom for him, your young reader will meet Kwisha who may still be in the running, but fits the bill as playmate, but not a mom. Even Umande’s dad, Rafiki, has too many other concerns to occupy him.
How does Umande find a mom a thousand miles away via a plane ride to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium? It’s a picture book trip worth taking along with Umande and your young reader.
In the Author’s Note at the end of the book, Maria Faulconer shares the genesis of this book as she read a newspaper clipping about Umande. Since she is an adoptive mom herself, it was a book she felt she had to write.
Motherhood is a true calling. And so, to all the moms out there who shape and serve as anchors for us each day of our lives, Happy Mother’s Day! One day set aside for thanks each year doesn’t seem half enough.
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