The Great Animal Escapade

Written by Jane Kerr
Review by Mike Ashworth

Manchester, England, 1872, the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens. Danny, a young boy, used to live on the streets, surviving as a pickpocket. Now he is part of a new family, with special responsibility for Maharajah, the giant elephant – star of the show – and darling of the Victorian crowds. Life for Danny is sweet and a total contrast to his previous existence, which comes back to threaten him.   However, life becomes more complicated when animals start escaping from the zoo and Danny finds himself the main suspect. When a stranger appears claiming to be his father, Danny finds himself at the centre of a storm of emotions, accusations and recriminations. Can he untangle the mystery of the escaping animals, and find out where he belongs – or will he end up on the streets, a vagabond once again?

Designed for the 9- to 12-year age range, with a strong plot and characters, the story is an exciting mystery which will appeal to older readers as well. Both the elephant and gardens are taken from history, and the story raises the issue of animal conservation in a subtle, non-judgmental way. The book follows on from The Elephant Thief but can be read as a standalone. A very enjoyable read. Recommended.