West with Giraffes

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The sentences are complex and sometimes I had to reread them two or three times to figure out who the subject was. Perhaps this is done to provide a sense of the confused state that Woodrow often finds himself in due to his advanced age. Woodrow Wilson Nickel was orphaned at 17 in the Texas Panhandle during the Dust Bowl, which I understood rather well because we've read Kristen Hannah's "The Four Winds". There are also little nuggets of reality woven seamlessly into the narrative, such as the point about crossing state lines as (in the northeastern U.S.) as often as people in Texas cross counties. (ref. Ch. 3, Pg. 51)

In the beginning there was a comedic theme that kept running through the early pages, because Woodrow lost his suspenders in the hurricane, so every now and then there was a reference to him holding up his pants.

On a scale of 1 - 5






Sex -

Religion - "despite my God-fearing ma, ... leaving little room for the Holy Spirit to breathe on me." and "Cussing...my ma's precious Jesus and his cruel God Almighty Father" (Pg. 7) and several other similar references to the faith of his mother. An allusion to "milk and honey, Moses and the Chosen People, Promised Land". (Pg. 14) Superstition about a lucky rabbit's foot. (Pg. 20) Reference to a spiritual gift of second sight. (Ch. 2, Pg. 36) Old Man muttered "Jesus-Joseph-Mary" when he was exasperated. (Ch. 3, Pg. 59) In the beginning of Ch. 4, Woody contrasts luck and God's favor. "gotdam" (Ch. 4, Pg. 78) A discussion about why God created animals. (Ch. 4, Pg. 85) Contrasts of birthmarks being either lucky or the mark of the devil. (Pg. 92)

Gruesome - "a sloop's mast stuck straight through him" (Pg. 6) plus minor references to hurricane aftermath

Suspense - Why was the Old Man worried about avoiding the circus? (Ch. 4, Pg. 88-89)

Morality - theft, or was it just doing what had to be done for survival. When the vehicle hit a dog they stopped to aid in the death, which was contrasted with a memory of Woody's dad hitting an animal and saying they shoot a coyote because it's a coyote but not to waste a bullet on a dog. (Pg. 52) Old Man said it was wrong to think an animal life worth less than a human. "Life is life." (Ch. 4, Pg. 78) Old Man philosophizes about not killing for sport. (Ch. 4, Pg. 87)

I always begin a book by reading the cover jacket. As I read the back of this book, I already had a question about why his face is "newly scarred before the hurricane-wallop". More questions soon followed, such as, who is the "you" that Woodrow writes to on the pad found by the VA liaison in the Prologue. In the second part of the Prologue, Woodrow refers to having had "so many wives" which led me to wonder how many. Soon I added another question - why was Woodrow afraid of the law in his hometown?

Discussion Questions

On page 8 we learn that Woodrow was taught that animals had purposes and were not to be one's pet, yet Woodrow ways, "Whenever I locked eyes with an animal I felt something more soulful than I ever felt from the humans I knew." One of the opening quotes: Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." - Anatole France
Do you agree? How different is loving your first animal from loving your first child?

The memory Woodrow can always recall is the giraffes. What memory do you think / hope you will have "always alive, always within reach" at your end of life. (Pg. 4)

How would you stack up against Woodrow's ma? Would you turn away a stray boy? What if you lived by the border or a bus depot? What if they got violent with each other. (Ref. beg. Ch. 3)

Townsfolk were excited to see the giraffes pass by on the road. Have you ever seen something significant pass by?

Theme Ideas

It might be fun to provide your readers with a map ahead of time so they can track their reading progress along the giraffe's route. Or perhaps you know of an interactive map online that reader's could pin their location and all the group could participate on the same map.


  • apples, not only a bounty from Chapter 1, but also twice-referenced in relation to the giraffe's eyes

  • hamburgers and milk, like at the first stop (Ch. 3, Pgs. 54-55)

  • meat pies, potatoes and coconut cake like Mrs. Round served at Round's Roadside Auto Rest (Ch. 4, Pg. 90)

Decorate with copies of the LIFE magazine with the giraffes on the cover or other pictures from the event.