“Nearly three hundred years ago, when half the world was still a mystery to the other half,” a rhinoceros named Clara became the toast of Europe, thanks to her impresario, Captain Van der Meer. But this isn’t the story of a ruthless entrepreneur and his exploited zoological curiosity. With elegant watercolor and ink drawings and flawless storytelling, McCully (Queen of the Diamond) immerses readers in an era of powdered white wigs (“hairdressers created the style à la rhinocéros”) and tricorne hats while capturing a relationship that exemplifies absolute trust and unflagging devotion. Every day, Clara grows by 20 pounds and eats more than 100 pounds of food; moving her requires ever-bigger wagons, and, in one case, a custom-made raft. Yet this interspecies bond only deepens: Van der Meer dotes on his “Clarakin,” and on page after page, Clara regards him with openhearted affection—she is his eager collaborator to the very end. McCully calls this a “mostly” true story, and perhaps by strict historical standards, that’s correct. But its emotional veracity is never in question.

-Publishers Weekly

“It’s pretty astonishing that an animal dubbed as “monstrous” and “frightful” could win the hearts of people from one end of Europe to the other, but that is exactly what happens in author Emily Arnold McCully’s latest adorable picture book, Clara: The (Mostly) True Story of the Rhinoceros Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists and Won the Hearts of Everyone . . . While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent!….Readers young and old will learn plenty when they read this book. They’ll learn that rhinos dry up in the sun unless they have access to water (or in Clara’s case, fish oil from the sea). They learn that ships from the olden times typically carried live animals like chickens, goats, and pigs so that they would have fresh milk, eggs—and possibly bacon (although slaughtering pigs was never mentioned).

They’ll learn that a rhino’s horn falls off like a fingernail or toenail, and another one eventually grows in its place. But perhaps most astonishing of all, they’ll learn just what an animal that weighs more than five thousand pounds eats and drinks every single day: namely, oranges, grass, 30 loaves of bread, 100 pounds of hay, and 14 buckets of water and beer. Of course, years later, society has learned that this is not the proper diet for a rhino, but it certainly kept Clara alive and kicking for many years.

This book is a history, zoology and geography lesson all rolled into 5,000 pounds of soulful-eyed fun. It should be noted that the text seems wordy at first sight—especially considering that the book specifically targets ages four to eight. However, the story is so amazing, and the full, sweeping illustrations are so adorable that the wordiness seems to disappear into thin air, much like those hundreds of pounds of food that Clara gulped down every day.  

Great for animal lovers, history buffs, and students of early travel and geography.”

– New York Journal of Books