Flipping the final page of “Lulu is a Rhinoceros” affirms one thing: truly impactful storytelling marries an important character with a thoughtful plot—all through a resonant message.
Music industry icon Jason Flom, his daughter Allison Flom and illustrator Sophie Corrigan carefully craft all of the above with some rhyme to pepper the playfulness. It’s no ordinary children’s adventure, as identity and acceptance are tackled along the way. And it’s not heavy-handed; letting the wants and wishes of Lulu herself—a bulldog that believes herself to be a rhino—define the outcome responsibly. Lulu happens to be a real-life dog first and foremost, and lives with Jason. She provided some of the inspiration, but so did an eye-opening experience.
“A few years ago, I got involved with an organization called VetPaw, which is composed of veterans empowered to protect African wildlife,” Jason explains. “It’s a group of US military veterans who work in Africa arresting poachers and protecting rhinos, as well as elephants. They also train African park rangers in US military tactics. I got to spend time with them in Africa. I got up close and personal with some rhinos.” Upon returning to America, he shared his experiences with Lulu—and then felt that she was communicating with him that she was a rhino. He felt it was in her heart.
“I started seeing the similarities,” he continues, “So I decided to write a book about it, thinking this could actually resonate with people. I wanted to create a story that would speak to kids who are feeling down because they are being victimized. Maybe also, I could have a chance to have an influence on kids, as their young minds are being formed, on whether or not they’re about to turn into a bully or an empathetic being. I want to help steer them down the right path.” Lulu certainly makes for an approachable character.
Jason had a vision of what the cover would look like. He then met a woman at a dinner who was in the business and offered to help. “She said she loved the story. She connected me to the illustrator. I then called my daughter, because she’s an actual writer,” he adds. “We had a great experience writing this together, over about five sessions. I actually couldn’t have imagined I would work with such a great team and it came out the way it did.”
There may be more Lulu books down the line because Jason wants to draw more attention to more endangered species, and he feels that children’s books are a great way to get the message out. “I just had a moment when I knew I could possibly make change,” he tells us. “I am seeing now, in its very early stage, anecdotally, feedback from children who have been affected by the book.” From a song adaptation by Jay Rao to images from friends of their own pets reading Lulu’s book, it’s all been a moving experience—and one by a family, for families; a fact that only emphasizes its value.
Images by Josh Rubin (book) and Evan Orensten (Lulu)