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Jumbo was a superstar of the Victorian era. Every day tens of thousands of people would visit this adored animal known as “the Children’s Pet” at the London Zoo. When P.T. Barnum purchased him for his Greatest Show on Earth, Jumbo’s transport to the United States made headlines for weeks. In North America, Jumbo became an instant sensation, and his name entered our lexicon as an adjective for oversized things. A half century after his death his still-famous and unrivalled popularity was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Dumbo.
But the story behind the story is more gripping than one could possibly imagine. Jumbo’s moving and surprisingly complex relationship with a junior zookeeper named Matthew Scott is told here for the first time using newly discovered archival material, including Scott’s own diaries. Chambers’ compelling account of Jumbo’s secret history enhances an already magnificent legend.
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] Paul Chambers is the author of eleven books on subjects as diverse as dinosaurs, the giant tortoise, and London’s Bedlam Hospital. He holds degrees in geology and paleontology, is a former television producer, and lives in Hertfordshire, England.From School Library Journal:
Adult/High School—Jumbo, an African elephant captured in 1862, endured a grueling journey to Europe, where he was housed in zoos in Paris and London. He was finally shipped to America to become part of Barnum & Bailey's "Greatest Show on Earth." Chambers has meticulously researched elephants in captivity during the Victorian era to tell the fascinating story of Jumbo's life and the eccentric humans who were part of it. Two such individuals were Matthew Scott, the keeper who spent 20 years by the animal's side, and the famously flamboyant Phineas Taylor Barnum. The showman purchased Jumbo from the London Zoo in 1882, during the height of the "Jumbo craze," and through his own deceptively clever marketing created a similar craze in America. Jumbo became victim to the Barnum & Bailey curse in 1885: one night while traveling on supposedly unoccupied railroad tracks, a locomotive struck him and the other elephants, and he died at the scene. Chambers asks readers to consider ethics and cruelty to animals in captivity; while activist groups existed in the late 1800s, zoological societies did not necessarily attend to their concerns. Jumbo was not only the inspiration for Helen Aberson's 1939 children's story Dumbo, but his name was also the first known use of the word "jumbo." While this title may not initially appeal to teens, booktalking and handselling it will prove rewarding to even the most reluctant readers.—Jennifer Waters, Red Deer Public Library, Alberta, Canada
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