Unlikely Friends: A review of 3 children’s books

unlikely friends

Are you an animal lover? How about your child? I recently watched a documentary with my children about unlikely friendships on National Geographic. The three friendships highlighted in the show were about Suryia and Roscoe (orangutan and a dog), Owel and Mzee (hippo and tortoise) and Tarra and Bella (elephant and dog). Seeing my children’s interest, I immediately searched for books on the topic and found three wonderful books about these unlikely friendships.

suryia and roscoe coverI am a huge lover of both monkeys and dogs so Suryia and Roscoe was a children’s book right up my alley! Suryia and Roscoe is about the strong friendship of an orangatun and a dog. The book begins with the story of how Suryai and Roscoe met. Suryai is an orangutan that lives on a wildlife preserve in South Carolina and Roscoe was a stray dog that had no owner. The preserve is the home to many animals including jaguars, elephants and other wild animals. When Suryai was going for walk one day with his caretaker and the elephant, Bubbles through the woods, they came across a dog, Roscoe. According to the story, Roscoe immediately ran to the Suryai and they embraced like old friends. After the walk, Suryia returned to his life at the preserve but Roscoe followed him. After several attempts to find Roscoe’s owner without success, the preserve adapted him. Since then, they spend time together each day playing with each other, cuddling and sharing food. For an update and more information on their friendship, check out this website here.


owen and mzee coverOwen and Mzee is the story of a  baby hippo named Owen and an old giant tortoise named Mzee. After a tsunami in Southeast Asia, Owen was left without his mother or a pod to care for him. Since Owen was a baby, he did not know how to take care of himself with regard to finding food, surviving, etc. Owen was rescued after being stranded on an a sandy coral reef among the sea grass. Where would Owen go? Dr. Paula Kahumbu, the manager of Haller Park offered to provide a home for Owen. Since Owen was a baby, he wouldn’t be able to enter the wild again and needed to be kept in a protected establishment, such as Haller Park. The area was already home to bushbacks, monkeys and a giant tortoise named Mzee. From the very beginning, Owen was interested in being Mzee’s companion. Although Mzee was an animal that prefered to alone, he started to appreciate the time with Owen by following each other, eating and then snuggling together. It is a sweet story of a friendship that both children and adults can enjoy. To learn more about this pair, click here.


tarra and bellaTarra and Bella is a sweet story of an retired circus elephant named Tarra and a stray dog named Bella. Tarra was an entertainer who used to perform in the circus as the world’s only roller skating elephant. She was in the movie Annie and tv shows like Little House on the Prairie. After a long career as an entertainer, she became a resident at the first Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. In the sanctuary were other elephants that slowly began to pair off one by one with special friendships with each other, except Tarra. Tarra did not pair off with any of the other elephants and was lonely until she met a stray dog named Bella. Tarra and Bella immediately bonded and were inseparable until Bella had an accident that left her badly injured. Due to her spinal cord injury, Bella was unable to walk and ambulate for an extended period of time. When Bella began to gain some mobility, Tarra was right there at her side, supporting her every move and enjoying each other’s company. Unfortunately in 2011, Bella passed away. To see the full story, click here.

I was fortunate to get in touch with Carol Buckley, who is the author and photographer for this book, Tarra and Bella. “For a little more insight Tarra was much more than a circus elephant, she was my partner, my mentor, my constant companion and the inspiration for my creation of the Elephant Sanctuary in TN. Tarra was the founding elephant and although she never paired up with another elephant, she, the social butterfly, was friends with all the elephants. But when Bella came into her life, she was complete. She and Bella were bonded like no other.”

To learn more about Carol, check out her website here. To learn more about the Elephant Aid International click here.

What do these books teach us about friendships? I think as a parent, children need to learn that we can be friends with all different types of people. We can also be friends with animals who are devoted, loving and loyal. When reading these books, ask questions and encourage comments from your child. Discuss vocabulary and encourage critical thinking skills. Excellent books to read at mealtime!

Are you a teacher? Check out these excellent resources to share with the children in class:

Owen and Mzee Teaching Resources by Scholastic

Inspire My Kids (link to worksheets and discussion questions)

buyitnow Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends


buyitnow Suryia and Roscoe: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship


buyitnow Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship


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