For a first-time attempt at a children’s book, Lauren St John has put together extremely captivating stuff in The White Giraffe (released recently in India).

Eleven-year-old Martine Allen’s life changes irrevocably when her parents die in a fire at their London home and she is sent to live with her grandmother on a game reserve in South Africa. Though Grandma Gwyn loves Martine, there is a strange reluctance—she seems to be holding back something.

The White Giraffe: By Lauren St John, Orion Books, 204 pages, Rs262.

Martine’s life on the reserve is as exciting as it can be for a girl who has lived her entire life in cold, wet England. She loves the African countryside, the animals on the game reserve, particularly the white giraffe she spots from her window one stormy night. Two of her staunchest allies are her grandmother’s Zulu help, Tendai, the big affable African who teaches her the ground rules about living on a farm like this and his aunt, Grace, who feels that Martine’s arrival there has a purpose behind it.

Martine finds her white giraffe, who she calls Jemmy, and a friend for life. The giraffe, in turn, helps her discover the things she can do with her strange gift. Martine understands why she was taken away from Africa by her parents when she was just a few days old.

By and by, Martine, with Grace’s help, realizes that she has a strange gift—the gift of healing. Coupled with the survival tips she learns from Tendai, Martine, the “witch", is shunned by almost all her school friends barring one, the ‘geeky’ Ben. But the white giraffe remains her passion—as it is for the poachers who’re helped surreptitiously by the warden of the reserve, Alex du Preez. Their mission: to ship animals illegally to the West Asia, where a fortune awaits them. Their prime target: the white giraffe. Can Martine thwart their plans?

Lauren St John was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1966 and lived on a farm there until she was 16. She has also worked as a journalist for many years. Golf and country music—apart from giraffes—are two of her obsessions.

The idea for White Giraffe came during a visit to Greenwich. In one of her interviews she said: “I attempted writing a novel once before, but it was so bad that it cured me of any idea that I could do it until two years ago, when I was walking along a street in Greenwich, south-east London, when an image popped into my head of this little girl riding a giraffe." Thus was born the urge to write up The White Giraffe.

St John has written biographies such as Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle. Earle is an American singer-songwriter, well- known for his rock and country music. She also wrote Shark: The Biography of Greg Norman.

Living on a farm which was part game reserve, St John grew up with Jenny, a giraffe (that’s the raw material for this book), two ostriches, a wildebeest, a herd of impala antelope and a troop of monkeys. “As a family," she writes, “we were animal crazy and so, apart from hordes of cats, dogs and horses, we were forever adopting stray goats, or taking in wild orphans, like our two warthogs, Miss Piggy and Bacon."

St John picked up skilful non-emergency animal treatment during her life on the farm. And this Gerald Durrell-esque book proves that. Wait for Dolphin Song, the sequel to The White Giraffe. The sneak preview in this book promises that it will be worth the wait.

The writer is the editor of Heek (, a children’s magazine. Write to