Children’s Book Week Review – Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay with illustrations by Leila Rudge


How much I love this book.

The percentage of awards I think it should win.

The percentage of people I think should read this book.


I really do love this book.

The first time I read it, I turned to David (of Pram Jam fame) and told him he had to read it, and then told about five other library workers to do the same. Then I tried to think of all the ways I could share this book with children.¬† This might seem like strange behaviour but I’m a young people’s services librarian – we are passionate about the books we love.

So, why do I love this book…oh, let me count the ways.

Book Cover Image for Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

The story, and message.

Our main character is a dreamer who wishes to see faraway lands, and even though she is told to stop dreaming she just ignores those people who don’t understand and goes out on her boat and sees the world. She sails away, lives her dream, has a wonderful time, and comes back with all of the knowledge and experience she gained along the way. I like the story, but I love the message. We know as adults that we have dreams that might not be possible but if we don’t dream or if we listen to people who tell us we can’t do something just because we happen to be a rhinoceros then we certainly are never going to get to live our dreams.

I have my own dreams of things I want to do, and I found this book comforting because I think we are all that little rhinoceros but we can also learn from her how to focus on what we want and go out and get it.

Then there are the illustrations.

I want to put a picture of one particular scene here but I can’t so I’ll describe it. Just after our small, but determined, rhinoceros sets sail. It’s a double-spread with the sea and her boat and the birds in the background but for me the things that makes me wish I had this print hanging on my wall is the pose and expression on the rhinoceros’s face. She looks completely content, and not a little pleased with herself. But you also get the impression that she is living in that moment and enjoying it for everything that it is. (Note: I only realised as I was proofing my writing that this picture is also the cover…maybe I’ll just hang the book on my wall ūüôā )

Leila Rudge is a wonderful artist – and I think the style suits this book wonderfully. Which is reflected in the book being notable in the picture book category where one of the deciding criterion is that the pictures and text work to compliment one another.

Plus, the rhinoceros has an orange life jacket.

The writing.

Meg McKinley writes beautifully, and it could be because she’s also a poet, or it could just be her. I was taken with this book immediately. The way the other rhinoceroses came up with all of the reasons not to do it and our small rhinoceros agreed and then kept on doing what she was going to do. The way Meg McKinley captured so much in the confines of a picture book’s limited word count. But the ending, our rhinoceros comes home and tells all of the other rhinoceroses what she did and they all ask questions and decide they were right – nothing to see out there and go back to doing what they have always done. But then there is another rhinoceros, and even smaller rhinoceros, who is enthralled by the stories and starts to dream.

So, basically I loved the writing too.

So, in conclusion…I really love this book. I will be sharing it with my Storytime group come Children’s Book Week in August, but you can reserve a copy today to read for yourself. I would love to know your thoughts below if you have already read this book or choose to read it because I have been fangirling about it for an entire blog post.