Annotation: As is the custom in his herd, Jaspa, a small, magical version of a giraffe, must travel across the rugged landscape of the Serengeti Plain deep in the African wilderness. Although his friends and relatives have all undergone this rite-of-passage, Jaspa doesn’t realize that something special is going to happen during his Journey, something having to do with a boy and his family visiting from London.
Personal thoughts: I was offered the chance to read a free downloadable version of this book, and (after getting used to reading on a screen, something I don’t often do!) I found it to be very cute and fun. It’s definitely for a middle to upper elementary school level, and while the factual information about Africa and the Serengeti does dominate most of the book, the story of Jaspa and the Ses was a creative addition. I think it would make an enjoyable classroom read-aloud, and would recommend it to any student wanting to learn more about Africa by reading something other than a non-fiction book.
Plot summary: The Serengeti Plain is one of the most diverse and beautiful regions in Africa. Full of terrifying but awe-inspiring terrain, animals and other wildlife, the Serengeti is home to some of the Earth’s most amazing creatures. One such creature is Jaspa. Jaspa is a Giraffeses, a small, magical version of a regular giraffe, who, like the other Ses creatures in the world, is invisible to the human eye. Every year, members of Jaspa’s herd of Giraffeses must participate in a rite-of-passage known as the Journey: a 500 mile trek across the Serengeti Plain where only the brave will survive. This year Jaspa, and his younger brother Bisckits, are setting out on their Journey, with no idea what the rugged landscape has in store for them. Although they suspect that their travels will be full of danger and excitement, what they don’t expect is that their Journey coincides with a Ben, a boy from London who is on vacation with his family in the Serengeti. Ben is a Seer, a human with the ability to see and communicate with the Ses. And he has a secret that will make Jaspa and Bisckits’ Journey unlike any other.
Review: For students interested in learning a great deal about the Serengeti Plain, Jaspa’s Journey, the debut novel from British born author Rich Meyrick, is a fun and lively novel that teaches while it entertains. Full to the brim of facts about wildlife, flora and fauna, geography, and more, Meyrick has managed to pack an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge into a novel of appropriate length for younger readers. The story of Jaspa and the idea of the Ses is interesting and, although the various Ses in the novel act and talk just like a human would, having an animal as the primary protagonist proves to be enjoyable. Young American readers might have a bit of trouble understanding some of the author’s British lingo (i.e. “blooming,” “holiday,” etc.), they will, with a little bit of perseverance, eventually get used to and likely come to enjoy Meyrick’s writing style. Overall, a fun, creative book that would do well in a classroom to enhance learning about Africa and the Serengeti. The novel is currently available for download on amazon.com and at www.jaspasjourney.com. The sequel, Jaspa’s Journey: The Pride of London was released in Summer 2012.
Reading level: Grade 4+
Similar titles: Jaspa’s Journey: The Pride of London by Rich Meyrick.
Themes: Africa, Serengeti, magical creatures, friendship, sibling relationships.
Awards/Reviews: USA Book News’ National Best Books 2009 Award Finalist
Series Information: First novel in Jaspa series. Second novel, Jaspa’s Journey: The Pride of London released online Summer 2012.
Discussion questions:- What are some of the things you learned about the Serengeti by reading Jaspa’s Journey? What is the most interesting thing you learned? Your favorite thing you learned?
- How would you describe the Ses? Do you think it’s possible that such creatures exist?
- Was it difficult for you to understand some of the British terms the author used in the novel? How did you discover their meaning? Did they enhance the story for you?
- Who was your favorite character? Why?
- What would you like to see happen in the sequel?