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West with Giraffes is an emotional, rousing novel inspired by the incredible true story of two giraffes who made headlines and won the hearts of Depression-era America.


“Few true friends have I known and two were giraffes…”

Woodrow Wilson Nickel, West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge

Official Synopsis

Woodrow Wilson Nickel, age 105, feels his life ebbing away. But when he learns giraffes are going extinct, he finds himself recalling the unforgettable experience he cannot take to his grave…

It’s 1938…The Great Depression lingers. Hitler is threatening Europe, and world-weary Americans long for wonder. They find it in two giraffes who miraculously survive a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic. What follows is a twelve-day road trip in a custom truck to become Southern California’s first giraffes. Behind the wheel is the young Dust Bowl rowdy Woodrow.

Inspired by true events, the tale weaves real-life figures with fictional ones, including the world’s first female zoo director, a crusty old man with a past, a young female photographer with a secret, and assorted reprobates as spotty as the giraffes.

Part adventure, part historical saga, and part coming-of-age love story, West with Giraffes explores what it means to be changed by the grace of animals, the kindness of strangers, the passing of time, and a story told before it’s too late.

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Get More Background Info about the Hurricane Giraffes

Be sure to visit author Lynda Rutledge’s website for more background information about the story itself as well as the writing process. I particularly loved seeing her whiteboard mindmap that became the novel and a map of the route, as well as original photos of the traveling rig.

Also, check out this in-depth article on Zoo Histories that talks about the book and adds historical background to the story (and more pictures!). There are also several great references listed here for anyone who wants to dig deeper.

Listen to the author tell a “story about a story” in this video of a West With Giraffes book lecture.

What I Liked About West With Giraffes

Road trips, animals, and history… These are things that I like and all three are included in this story!

Generally I devour books as quickly as possible but for West With Giraffes, I ended up reading it bit by bit across a longer timespan which actually contributed nicely to the atmosphere. Woody’s trip from New York to San Diego was two weeks long. They had to drive slowly in their make-shift rig, stopping often for the giraffes to eat and for the crowds who came to see the giraffes. Taking my time with the book made my reading time also a journey.

I enjoyed reading about a route that I have driven in parts myself but in an earlier time. (I drive on Lee Highway almost everyday on the way to the grocery store in fact.)

Side note - Lee Highway was inspired by Lincoln Highway. Lincoln Highway (created along the route taken by Horatio Jackson Nelson on the first successful coast-to-coast automobile trip) was a coast-to-coast route that crossed northern states. The South wanted a memorial coast-to-coast highway of their own and created the Lee Highway.

West With Giraffes takes place during the Great Depression and the route crosses the Dust Bowl. I don’t know a lot about the Dust Bowl and that time period so it was interesting to get a small glimpse into the era.

And giraffes… what’s not to like about giraffes? These quiet, majestic creatures are a joy to watch and after reading this book I just had to learn more about them. Coming soon I will have more fun giraffe info to share!

Read West With Giraffes

Grab a copy from your local library or order online at Bookshop. (Bookshop supports small, independent book sellers nationwide!)

See all the giraffe books on my list here – Giraffe Books

Buy a Bookmark Too!

Check out these cute giraffe bookmarks I made! You can get a copy in my Etsy shop.

preview of giraffe bookmark digital file
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Buy on Etsy!

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