September 2016


Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship

by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu

This is the true story of two great friends, a baby hippo named Owen and a 130-year-old giant Aldabra tortoise named Mzee. When Owen was stranded after the devastating 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, villagers worked tirelessly to rescue him. Then, to everyone's amazement, the orphan hippo and the elderly tortoise adopted each other. Now they are inseparable, swimming, eating, and playing together. This wholly unexpected friendship captured hearts everywhere.

A Note from the First Lady:

Dear Read20 Book Club families,

It’s hard to believe that a baby hippo and a 130-year-old giant turtle could become best friends, but this book proves that unlikely friendships can be the most rewarding! From reading the story of Owen and Mzee, we learn about resiliency during a time of tragedy, overcoming differences, and the true meaning of friendship. This book will inspire you to think about your relationships with family, friends, and classmates. Why do you think it’s important to support one another, especially during difficult times?

Books are a terrific way to learn more about the amazing creatures living all around the world. After reading Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship, your school library or local public library is a terrific resource to check out other animal books. With Labor Day being just around the corner on Monday, September 5, you might be interested to visit a local Tennessee zoo over the holiday!Attend every day, in every grade. Watch this video on the importance of student attendance.  
Thank you for your commitment to reading at least 20 minutes each day. Your hard work is so important for success in school and in life.

Keep up the great reading,

Crissy Haslam
First Lady of Tennessee


Family Activities

One of the reasons that the relationship between Owen and Mzee is intriguing and captivating is the fact that they are very different. Identify and write down on paper the similarities and differences between the two animals. After reading Owen and Mzee’s story, how would you define friendship and what can we learn from them? Have you ever been surprised to find a friend in someone who you believed to be very different from yourself?

What is resiliency? Who do you think is resilient in this story and how do their actions or attitudes show this quality? Why do you think resiliency is a good trait to have?

Do you know what caused the tsunami wave that separated Owen from his family? Visit this website to learn about the science of a giant tsunami wave and why they can be so devastating to humans and animals.

Mzee means ‘wise old man’ in Swahili, the language spoken in Kenya where the story takes place. Look up African animals and other words from the Swahili language—one of my favorite words is the word for goodnight:  Lala salama.

What do you think happened next to Owen and Mzee? Write your own continuation of the story!

If you liked reading about Owen and Mzee, visit your local public library to check out two other books in the series: Owen and Mzee: The Language of Friendship or Owen and Mzee: Best Friends. There are also additional resources and computer games available on the website