Wenxuan Cao (author), and Rong Li (illustrator) The Last Leopard, Starfish Bay Children’s Books, August 2019, 44 pp, RRP $24.99, ISBN 9781760360887
A Leopard’s fear of being the last of his kind drives his quest to find another like himself. Throughout his journey he comes across a pigeon, a groundhog and an oak tree, all of whom are searching or waiting for members of their own species, too. Only when it rains does the leopard finally see another of his own kind, in the form of his own reflection, but soon after that he dies.
Leopards are an endangered species and a conservation-based story about them looked promising. But I have to admit I found this story a little confusing. I wasn’t sure what a groundhog was doing in the African savannah. Nor why a groundhog or pigeon were having trouble locating members of their own species, as neither one of them is endangered.
While I can see that the author is trying to impress upon young people the fragility of the leopard’s future, I found the author’s choice of ending final and rather grim. I think that it is important to leave young children –whom this story is aimed at—feeling moved but also empowered, rather than just upset. Particularly in a story whose main themes are loneliness and extinction, children must be left with a sense of hope about the world they are about to inherit.
Some pages are text heavy but vivid illustrations of wide skies, broad savannahs and exotic animals will hold young readers’ attention.
Reviewed by Deborah Kelly