It’s rare for a children’s book to both shock and inspire, but Jacqueline Briggs Martin, author of the Caldecott Medal winner Snowflake Bentley, achieves both in her latest undertaking, The Chiru of High Tibet. Spare yet elegant, this unique picture book takes readers to cold and windy Chang Tang in the northern plains of Tibet, home of the chiru, sheep-sized animals that resemble antelopes. While many Tibetans believe the chiru’s horns have healing powers, outsiders would probably never know of these unique creatures if not for their wool, called shahtoosh, the finest and softest in the world.To make one shawl of shahtoosh, up to five chiru are killed.
Through poaching, the chiru have been brought to the brink of extinction. Conservationist George Schaller believed that the key to saving these animals was to identify the secret place where they give birth and ask the Chinese government to make this ground protected land. After Schaller’s unsuccessful attempts with trucks and camels, four mountain-climbing men volunteer to follow the chiru more than 200 miles, across chilly canyon streams and rocky gorges, to locate the secret birthing ground.
As spectacular as the story are Linda Wingerter’s gorgeous paintings in pastel blues, pinks and oranges that capture the icy, rugged terrain in early morning light. A concluding double-page spread features color photographs of Schaller, the four trekkers and a baby chiru. Martin, who traveled to the Chang Tang Reserve in Tibet as part of her research, highlights both man’s threats to wildlife and the impact of a few individuals on an entire species. The chiru’s plight is an enlightening reminder to all readers of Earth’s fragility.