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The Girl Who Loved Giraffes: a remarkable take on a remarkable woman

Rockwood resident Kathy Stinson captures the essence of Anne Innis Dagg
giraffe 1

When Rockwood resident and writer Kathy Stinson sat down to watch the latest offering of The Bookshelf’s Sunday Secret Cinema, The Woman Who Loved Giraffes, she had no idea that this movie would be the inspiration for a future book. She, and everyone else in the audience that day did not understand that they would be in the presence of an eminent and passionate scientist known worldwide for her work on giraffes.

Anne Innis Dagg, who was in her late 80’s on this particular Sunday, walked in for the Q&A following the excellent film and immediately the whole audience leapt from their seats and gave a sustained standing ovation. Recalling this special moment still brings tears to my eyes. This was two years ago.

Today, The Girl Who Loved Giraffes is a hot off the press book that will capture the delight of people of all ages.

Kids love stories about animals and adventure and as we grow older we appreciate hearing about people who hold on to their dreams, fight the system, and eventually after all odds, succeed in their obsession.

Anne is quoted as saying, “I never thought of myself as a woman, I just thought of myself as a person.” When she was young she grumbled about not being able to  play hockey with the boys. Little did she know that the future would hold further barriers.

The 50’s were not kind to independent women. Sexism in academia and everywhere was part of the game. Anne had to resort to signing letters with just her initials because so often she was told that women shouldn’t travel alone or that women shouldn’t work outside of the home once they got married. Yup, the younger readers may not know that!

Kathy re-imagines the many brave paths that Anne travelled. She earned a gold medal in biology at university and used the prize money to fund a trip to Africa to do her own giraffology studies. After a long boat ride across the ocean she realized that she still has 1,000 miles to go to reach her destination. That didn’t bother her a bit. She just rented a car. When the car broke down just before she arrived she walked out into the night, not knowing what kind of animal, human or otherwise, she might encounter. This kind of grit is illustrated through out.

Luckily over the years other biologists world-wide were studying her findings and assisted her reputation internationally.

The format of the book is ingenious and grounds the imagined retelling with the realities of science and the life of giraffes. The imagined text is at the top of the page and the facts of life for giraffes and scientists described nearby. Did you know that “each giraffe’s markings are as unique as a person’s fingerprints.?"

I would be remiss if I did not mention the lustrous and beautiful illustrations by Francois Thisdale. The indigo blue of the early night African sky sets the tonal spirituality of the land. Our imaginations are set aloft as we travel through Anne’s life.

Can you hear my COVID standing ovation? Congrats to Kathy, Francois and of course Anne for keeping your passions alive and reminding us not to
give up!

Despite stellar qualifications, Anne Innis Dagg was denied tenure at University of Guelph in the 70’s. They have recently appologized and have started a scholarship for undergraduate women in Zoology in her name.

Please join Zoom on Wednesday June 2 at 7 p.m. for the launch of the book. Just put in The Girl Who Loved Giraffes in the subject box!


Barb Minett

About the Author: Barb Minett

Barb Minett is a lifelong lover of books, longtime Guelph Resident and co-founder of The Bookshelf at 42 Quebec Str.
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