Saving Moka The True Tale of a Rescued Tiger Cub by Georgeanne Irvine
When Moka the tiger was just a few weeks old, wildlife traffickers tried to smuggle him into the United States from Mexico. But, thanks to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, Moka was discovered on the floor of the car and rescued. The tiger cub was taken to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park where veterinarians and caretakers provided a safe and nurturing home for the hungry and tired cub.
Soon after his arrival, however, Moka’s life changed once again when another young tiger cub, Rakan, also needed a new home. Rakan, whose mother stopped caring for him when he was six weeks old, came to live at the Safari Park where the two cubs would be raised together as brothers. With an instant connection, Moka learned how to behave like a tiger from Rakan, and the two cubs spent their days wrestling and playing with each other.
But, being born into the world of wildlife trafficking would soon bring some unexpected health challenges to Moka. This is the true story of Moka the tiger cub, his rescue from wildlife traffickers, and the people and tiger friend who would help save him.
Big cats are captivating for kids, and this story of a little tiger’s journey back to the wild is perfect for little ears and elementary-aged readers. Saving Moka is ideal for learning new facts about big cats, the dangers they face, and how you can help. This amazing story of a vulnerable tiger who manages to grow up safe and strong is inspiring for grown ups too!
As a baby, Moka is rescued at the US/Mexico border from smugglers. He’s discovered by a kind officer who helps get him to a Safari park, and the humans in his life work together throughout his life to teach him how to be a tiger, how to interact with other tigers, and how to eventually survive on his own in a wildlife sanctuary.
The odds are against brave Moka every step of the way, as he faces a number of unusual health problems that would have been big trouble if he’d remained with the smugglers. The story of his survival and happy ending as a big, healthy adult is one that encourages kids who are living out their own life story of ups and downs.
The book is full of details like Moka’s actual pawprints on the pages. There are facts about tigers, the dangers they face, and the ways that people are helping them thrive. There are even ways for little readers and their parents to get involved. It’s the perfect choice for independent reading during school time, and kids will enjoy the practical facts they learn along the way.
A terrific blend of story and learning, Saving Moka has a heartwarming happy ending, and kids will love reading about Moka’s life. He relies on good people and even tiger friends to grow up strong, and his tale shows the best about people who want to help.
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About the Author, Georgeanne Irvine
“San Diego native Georgeanne Irvine has devoted more than four decades of her career to raising awareness about animals and wildlife conservation. She is currently the director of corporate publishing for San Diego Zoo Global, which includes writing books and overseeing a new publishing division, San Diego Zoo Global Press. In the 40-plus years that “George” has worked for the Zoo, she has also held positions in the public relations and fundraising departments.
A journalism degree from San Diego State University paved the way for George’s writing career. She is the author of more than two dozen children’s books about animals. Her award-winning Hope and Inspiration collection, published by San Diego Zoo Global Press, features true tales about Zoo and Safari Park animals that have overcome challenges in their lives.
The books include Ruuxa & Raina: A Cheetah and Dog’s True Story of Friendship and Miracles, Karen’s Heart: The True Story of a Brave Baby Orangutan, Fabulous Floyd: The True Story of a Flamingo Who Never Gave Up, and Mosi Musi: A True Tale about a Baby Monkey Raised by his Grandma. Her newest book is Saving Moka: The True Tale of a Rescued Tiger Cub,
Mosi Musa and Ruuxa & Raina are recipients of the Independent Book Publishers Association’s gold Benjamin Franklin Award as the best non-fiction children’s book of 2020 and 2019 respectively. Karen’s Heart is the 2019 silver recipient in the same category. In addition, the Hope and Inspiration books won the 2019 National Parenting Product Award (NAPPA) for the best children’s book series.
George is also the author of hundreds of magazine, newspaper, and web articles, many of which are illustrated with her photographs.
George’s passions are travel, photography, conservation, storytelling, Broadway musicals, and, of course, animals. Her worldwide adventures have taken her to some of the wildest places on Earth—from the jungles of Borneo and South America to the mountains of China and the glaciers of Alaska as well as the savannas of Africa and the Outback of Australia. She regularly leads wildlife-oriented tours for San Diego Zoo Global—her latest trip was as a guest lecturer on an around-the-world private jet expedition in early 2019—and she is often an enrichment lecturer for Silversea Cruise Line.”
Rapid Fire with Georgeanne Irvine
Q. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
George: I have been a storyteller ever since I was child. I was curious and enthusiastic about everything and would entertain my family with stories about what happened during my day. In grade school, whenever we had an option to draw a picture or write something, I always wrote a story or poem. Also, my grandmother wrote children’s books—and I wanted to write children’s books just like she did. (Her books were self-published.)
Q. What does your family think of your writing?
George: My family and friends love my children’s books and are very proud of me. But, my home office is in an upstairs loft and sound from the TV room travels straight up to my office. Because I’ve been working from home for most of this year, they’re not thrilled when they have to be really quiet at times but they understand.
Q. What was the most surprising thing you learned about creating books?
George: I have been writing children’s books for decades but when I wrote my first few books, I was surprised at how difficult it is to write for kids. Most people think it’s really easy because the word count is short. But, telling a good story that will capture a child’s attention in a limited number of words is much more challenging than writing articles and books for the adult audience, which I also do.
Q. What advice do you have for writers?
George: When I give talks in the community about the San Diego Zoo and our Hope and Inspiration children’s books, I often have people come up to me and share their dream about writing their own books for kids. Many times, when I ask what they are writing, they say “Nothing, but someday I want to write.”
So my advice is to write, even if it’s just jotting down notes on a piece of paper to get started. Also, some people tell me that they have written a story but it’s just sitting in a folder in a drawer. I encourage those writers to pull it out of the drawer and at least show it to someone they trust to get a little feedback. Hopefully, they will gradually build the confidence in their writing to take it to the next level, whatever that may be for them.
Q. Describe what your ideal writing space looks like?
George: My writing space is surrounded by everything that I love: artwork, books, photos, artifacts from my travels, memorabilia, and more—most things have an animal theme. My offices at home and work are very colorful and the artwork includes paintings of animals and paintings by animals (yes, really!) I want to feel inspired and happy in my writing space. In my Zoo office, I have a life-size plush flamingo, that I call Floyd after one of my book characters.
I also have a painting by Indah, one of our Zoo orangutans, and what makes it extra special is the paintbrush that Indah dropped on the canvas when she finished. That paintbrush is stuck to the painting, making it 3-D and I love it. I also have a painting featuring the footprints of some of my animal friends from my early days at the Zoo: Arusha the cheetah, Daphne the emu, and Hound Dog the miniature horse (who used to belong to Elvis Presley, hence the name.) In my home office, I have a colorful wooden snake on wheels! Doesn’t everyone need a snake on wheels?
Q. What do you love most about the writing process?
George: My favorite thing about the writing process is the research and gathering of photos! Most of my books are non-fiction stories about animals that are illustrated with photos. I LOVE interviewing our wildlife care specialists and the veterinary team for the books, and also researching information about the particular animal species. In many instances, I shoot photos of the animals for the books and also use those photos for research.
I often get to go behind-the-scenes to shoot pictures and in some cases, I have the privilege and honor of meeting the animals up close, such Tornero, one of our sloth animal ambassadors, or Omeo, a koala who is being hand-reared by wildlife care specialists because his mother died of cancer. I’m writing Hope and Inspiration books about both of those animals.
Q. What do you like to do when you are not writing?
George: When I’m not writing, I love being home with family, friends, and my three Boston terriers. I am a huge Broadway musical fan so I thrive on seeing musicals in local theaters and in New York (when we aren’t in the midst of pandemic) as well as on television. I love all musicals—that range from traditional musicals like Gypsy and the Sound of Music to shows like Dear Evan Hansen, Legally Blonde, and Mamma Mia, but if I had to pick one favorite, it would definitely be Wicked! I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen it.
I also travel the world so I can see and photograph wildlife in their native habitats. I love being on safari in Africa but one of my favorite places to see wildlife is India, particularly Kaziranga National Park in northeastern India where you see wild rhinos and elephants. One of my most incredible wildlife experiences ever was at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska. We spent four days viewing Alaskan brown bears, fishing at a waterfall. At one point, I had 16 bears in my line of sight. The photo opportunities there were incredible. I’m really excited about going back to Brooks Falls in the summer of 2021.
Also, I was supposed to go to the Pantanal wetland in Brazil last August to see jaguars in the wild but it got postponed to 2021 because of the pandemic. Hopefully I’ll be hanging out with jaguars and other South American wildlife next June.
Q. What type of books do you write?
George: I write non-fiction children’s books about wildlife; books that are illustrated with photos. The Hope and Inspiration collection of children’s books, published by San Diego Zoo Global Press, is what I am currently writing. Thus far, there are five books in the collection—all true stories about animals from the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park that have overcome challenges in their lives. The whole idea is to connect children with individual animals and their stories, like Karen the orangutan, Floyd the flamingo, or Moka the tiger.
When kids get to know and relate to the animals, the hope is that they will be inspired to care about that animal, the animals’ species, and wildlife in general. I have found that kids are not only inspired to love wildlife through these stories but they also learn life lessons, such as being brave, never giving up, and the value of special friendships.
Q. Can you tell us about one of the most rewarding moments you have had as an author?
George: It was 2017 and I had just finished writing our very first Hope and Inspiration book and we were in the graphic design phase of the book. The story was about Karen, a baby orangutan who had survived open heart surgery back in 1994. (Karen is grown up now and still lives at the San Diego Zoo.) I was in the Zoo’s public relations department at the time of Karen’s surgery, which was the world’s first open heart surgery on an orangutan. Karen did well with the surgery but then got a lung infection so she was on a ventilator for two weeks and we weren’t sure whether she would make it.
She received get well letters from all over the world including a letter from a 5-year-old girl from San Diego named Jennie Auger, who had just been diagnosed with leukemia. Jennie had drawn a colorful rainbow and a smiling sun on the letter. I planned to include Jennie’s letter and artwork (which I had saved for more than 20 years) in the Karen book, when our publisher asked if I had permission from Jennie’s family to include it in the book. I wasn’t sure if I could find Jennie’s family and I didn’t know what had happened to her—whether she had won her battle against leukemia.
So, I plugged her name into google and up pops a Linkedin listing for Jennifer Auger, Graduate Nursing Student, University of San Diego. And here is what her profile said: “Nursing has played a pivotal role in my life. When I was five years old, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. My treatment journey required two plus years of intense treatment. I lost my hair, my immune system, and my five-year-old innocence. I owe my life to advances in medicine and the team who treated me. While the doctors were important, the nurses were the ones who surrounded me with support and tender loving care. Looking back, I have come to more fully realize the gift of life I was given, and the nurses who made it happen. After much soul searching, I came to the realization that nursing is my destiny. I hope that one day I too can make an impact on people’s lives and play a role in their healing process.”
I had found Jennie!!!!!! Not only had she beat leukemia but she had graduated from nursing school and was now a nurse in the emergency room of Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego. (The Linkedin Listing was a few years old.) I will never forget the first time Jennie and I spoke on the phone! She said that her mother told her that when she was first diagnosed with leukemia, she became withdrawn and quiet.
Her mother suggested that she write to someone else who was sick to help her feel better, so Jennie chose to write that letter to Karen orangutan, the letter I had saved in my files since 1994. Jennie told me that in a time of great darkness in her life, Karen orangutan brought her light! Jennie and I have since become friends—she is an amazing young woman and a fabulous nurse.
When we launched San Diego Zoo Global Press in 2018, I presented Jennie with her original letter in a frame and a copy of the book about Karen, who to this day is Jennie’s favorite animal! Knowing that Jennie beat leukemia and then getting to meet Jennie is one of the most rewarding things I have ever experienced as an author.
And the cool thing: we featured Jennie’s letter and art in the book, and were able to include a callout: “Jennie is a grown-up now. She beat leukemia and is a nurse at a children’s hospital.” I know with all of my heart that Jennie’s letter and story inspires children everywhere, just as it inspired me. It gives me hope for a brighter future.
Q. Are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with your readers about?
George: Thus far, there are five books in the Hope and Inspiration collection: Karen’s Heart: The True Story of a Brave Baby Orangutan; Fabulous Floyd: The True Story of a Flamingo Who Never Gave Up; Ruuxa & Raina: A Cheetah and Dog’s True Story of Friendship and Miracles; Mosi Musa: The True Story about a Baby Monkey Raised by His Grandma; and the newest title Saving Moka: The True Tale of a Rescued Tiger Cub. The next book in the collection, which will debut in 2021, is Raising Don: The True Story of a Spunky Baby Tapir.
In addition, I’m following many different animals for possible books in the future, including Omeo, the baby koala who was orphaned when his mother died of cancer; Xanan, a California condor chick that we have documented from before she hatched to her recent release back into the wild; Tornero the sloth, our new animal Zoo ambassador. Also, a great place to purchase the Hope and Inspiration books is at shopzoo.com. All proceeds help support San Diego Zoo Global’s worldwide wildlife conservation efforts.
Q. What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
George: I want readers’ hearts to be touched by the animals featured in the books and I hope readers will be inspired to love and protect Earth’s precious wildlife and their habitats.
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All in all, my family and I have really enjoyed this book and we know you will too! Please feel free to leave me any comments or questions about this review. I look forward to hearing from you!
* This book was kindly sent to me by Author, Georgeanne Irvine in exchange for an honest review.