Dale Smithís second environmental novel features the same plot device as What the Parrot Told Alice Ė his daughter is awakened to the plight of an endangered species by a talking animal. While his first book was intended for a younger audience, What the Orangutan Told Alice adds more depth and description to the narrative, making it suitable for older students and adults while still maintaining the element of fantasy.
The story is well-researched, which at times proves to be its downfall. Some conversations become overly didactic and stilted in an attempt to pack in as much information as possible. The story does, however, convey important information about orangutansí endangered status and the horrible things that humans do to the earth in the name of civilization.
The interplay between Alice and her new friend, Shane, is sometimes distracting, such as when she corrects his grammar, but overall they make a good duo as they reflect on the information they receive. Even with many dire scenes in the book, the reader isnít left completely hopeless through a profile of a local rehabilitation center. The scientists and workers at the center strive to return orangutans that were either snatched from the forest as babies or driven out by construction projects to the wild. There is also hope in Alice and Shane. Their newfound appreciation for Borneo and its orangutans is obvious and itís apparent that they will commit themselves to educating others. The author provides a list of resources at the back of the book for those readers who feel similarly inspired.
What the Orangutan Told Alice is illustrated with photographs taken in the rain forests of Borneo. Even though Smith is highly skilled in his descriptions of the world Alice and Shane discover, the pictures add an extra level of realism to the story. Captions connect them to the plot, so readers can start to feel like they really know the orangutans and other sights of the forest.
What the Orangutan Told Alice could easily be used in schools, although it is still suitable for leisure reading. Readers canít help but learn something from this story, and most will enjoy themselves in the process.