‘Orangutan Houdini’ by Laurel Neme: Exploring the intelligence of animals

 

September 18, 2014 8:11 PM MST

 

Orangutan Houdini by Laurel Neme
Rating: 3 stars

Children will love “Orangutan Houdini” by Laurel Neme, and adults will also enjoy this story based on the very real adventures of Fu Manchu, an orangutan who repeatedly escaped from his enclosure at an Omaha, Nebraska zoo. Neme brings the mischievous creature to life with her carefully crafted account.

When Fu Manchu and his orangutan friends began escaping with regularity from their enclosure, the head zookeeper berated the staff for being careless and not locking the door. Finally, in desperation (and knowing that they hadn’t left the door unlocked), the staff spied on the orangutans until they noticed Fu Manchu picking the lock on the door!

Teachers and parents will appreciate that in the Author’s Note, she writes about what is known as fact about Fu Manchu and orangutans in general. She writes: “Escapes like Fu’s demonstrate an orangutan’s ability to deceive, which shows significant mental abilities. Fu had to understand (the zookeeper’s) behavior and devise a plan to conceal the tool.”

It’s unfortunate that the publisher, Bunker Hill Press, was not up to the job of editing the picture book. Through no fault of the author, there are some glaring errors in the published book that the publisher has no intention of correcting. (‘”Fu’s crafty,” Jerry told his staff. “Pick up anything, you think, he could use to open that door!”‘) There are other careless grammatical and mechanical errors in both the story and the author’s note.

The good news is that when read aloud, the book’s errors will not be noticed. Also, it would be a wonderful exercise for students in 5th grade and above to edit the book on their own after learning the rules of where to put (and not put) commas. Perhaps the book’s editor should participate!