Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Review - Railway Jack: The True Story of an Amazing Baboon

Railway Jack: The True Story of an Amazing Baboon
by KT Johnston
illustrated by César Samaniego
Date: 2020
Publisher: Capstone Editions
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Jim was a South African railway inspector in the late 1800s who lost his legs in an accident while at work. Unable to perform all his tasks with his disability but desperate to keep his job, Jim discovered a brilliant solution, a baboon named Jack. Jim trained Jack to help him both at home and at the depot. But when the railway authorities and the public discovered a monkey on the job, Jack and Jim had to work together to convince everyone that they made a great team. This inspiring true story celebrates the history of service animals and a devoted friendship.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What an interesting story! I'd never heard of Jack the baboon or his friend, Jim Wide. I'm glad I got a chance to read this book and find out more about this unique pair.

Jim was a double amputee, and had trouble doing some tasks. When he had the opportunity to buy Jack, an intelligent baboon, he took it, and the two became close friends. Jack started out helping Jim with various tasks in the man's life, but proved to be so intelligent that he was eventually able to be employed by the railway as Jim's official assistant! He listened to and counted the number of train whistles, which indicated how the track needed to be switched... and then he did it himself! People were understandably concerned at first, but when an official was brought in to test Jack's skills, the baboon passed easily. It's said that in all his years of working the switches, he never made a mistake.

I have some conflicted feelings about this from an animal welfare point of view. Jack was worked awfully hard, though it seemed he would've done just about anything for Jim. I noticed the chain that Jack wore in the original photos that are included at the back of the book; it's noticeably absent from the illustrations. (That seems uncomfortably close to sanitizing part of the story.) Animal rights were, of course, viewed very differently in the 1880s than they are today. But I still would've liked to see the depiction of Jack's treatment be as accurate as possible.

There's a nice little note at the end talking about what happened to Jack and Jim, with a few photos. There's also a short discussion about service animals and some information about baboons.

Overall, this is a really strong biographical picture book about a pair of subjects that kids will likely find fascinating. I'd recommend it to readers who enjoy non-fiction titles about animals, especially ones who do extraordinary things.

Thank you to NetGalley and Capstone Editions for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 5/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 5/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.33 out of 5

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