Fifth-graders (from left to right) Gaia Gambboa, Owen Bryson, Matthew Pisano, Tess Lovell, and Katie Tanzer pose with “One Special Rhino: The Story of Andatu after a reading for younger students at PS 107.
At the PS 107 John W. Kimball Learning Center in Park Slope, the fifth-graders have gone “rhino mad” with animal activism – and they have the book to prove it.
Andatu is a Sumatran rhinoceros that was born in 2012 at a sanctuary in Indonesia. Poachers, getting rich off the false belief that rhinoceros horns have health benefits, have decimated his species; Andatu is now one in only 100 Sumatran rhinoceros left in the world. The fifth-graders at PS 107 don’t think that’s right and are speaking up for Andatu through their new book One Special Rhino: The Story of Andatu.
“They really feel like Andatu is their rhino,” says Katherine Eban, co-chair of Beast Relief, the PTA committee at PS 107 that helped the fifth-grade class produce the book. “They’ve gone ‘rhino mad!’”
Beast Relief was founded in 2012 when Eban, currently a contributing journalist for Fortune magazine and mother of a second-grader at PS 107, was disturbed by the rhino-poaching crisis. She shared her concern with other parents, including now co-chair Heather Millward, and they decided to create Beast Relief.
Eban says they intended for Beast Relief “to be an animal welfare committee in which we were going to try and inspire in the kids a desire to take care of wildlife and the importance of conservation.”
The PS 107 students first became involved in animal activism through efforts such as making the video The Secret Lives of Rhinos. Beast Relief and PS 107 school officials felt making a book about Andatu would be a great way for the students to make a lasting difference while gaining some skills along the way
Dominique Frieda, the fifth-grade reading teacher responsible for many of the organizational efforts of the project, says working on the book has taught the students that, “when you feel passionately about something and you want to get the word out there, you don’t have to wait for an adult to do it.”
The fifth-graders’ work on One Special Rhino also coincided with their nonfiction reading section, Frieda says. Between 15 to 20 students participated in the research and the writing of the book while the rest of PS 107’s 85 fifth-graders made illustrations of Andatu to be included in the book. Frieda says the project helped the students understand the value of nonfiction literature and see it as more than something a teacher makes you read. She said the project also taught them skills the students would use for the rest of their lives.
“They learned a lot about working together and collaborating,” Freida says.
The Beast Relief committee took the students’ writing and illustrations and pieced them together to create a cohesive narrative. The committee reached out to Chris Eastland, Brooklyn-based author of the Zooborns series of children’s books about baby animals, who helped in the production of the book. Both the children and the adults, says Frieda, were happily surprised with how professional-looking the book turned out.
“They were able to publish a book that’s amazing, that I can see people buying though the years,” Frieda says.
One Special Rhino: The Story of Andatu is available on Amazon.com. Proceeds from the book will go directly to the International Rhino Foundation to help endangered rhinoceroses like Andatu.