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50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History

Illustrated by Sarah Walsh

About The Book

From the illustrator of Herstory (a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2018) comes a fascinating and touching book about fifty extraordinary animals that made human history!

Discover these amazing true tales of wild and wonderful lives—animal lives, that is!

We often read heroic stories of brave people who made their mark on history. But did you know there are some pretty courageous creatures in our world, too? This captivating collection gathers fifty heartwarming, surprising, and powerful true stories of animals around the world who displayed immense bravery, aided in groundbreaking discoveries, and showed true friendship.

Featuring a range of animals—from heroes to helpers, adventurers to achievers, and many more—young readers will discover some of the most unforgettable animals of all time. Compelling and gorgeously illustrated, WildLives is the perfect introduction to some of the amazing animals whose wild lives have made history.


Cher Ami


The pigeon who saved the lives of soldiers

War heroes don’t often have wings. When we talk about bravery in battle, we usually think of people who have risked their lives to help others. We don’t often think of birds, which is why the tale of Cher Ami is so extraordinary. In 1918 in France, during the First World War, the little pigeon managed to save almost 200 lives.

Homing pigeons like Cher Ami are incredible birds. Each one learns to know where its home is, and will return there even when that home is many, many miles away. For this reason, homing pigeons—also called carrier pigeons—have been used for hundreds of years to send messages across long distances, with small notes attached to their legs.

The message Cher Ami carried for many miles.

In the First World War, the United States Army used more than 600 birds to carry messages across the battlefields of France. None of them was quite as heroic as Cher Ami. She had already delivered more than ten important messages during the war, but her final mission was her most famous.

On October 4, 1918, she came to the rescue when a battalion of American soldiers found themselves in a very dangerous situation. The soldiers, led by Major Charles Whittlesey, were being fired at by both the enemy and their own side, who didn’t realize they were there. They needed to get a message out to stop the attack—and fast. The major wrote a note that read: “We are along the road parallel 276.4. Our artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake stop it.” It was tied to the leg of Cher Ami, and while bombs and bullets whistled through the air, the bird rose into the sky.

Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre medal for bravery.

The enemy knew exactly what was happening and shot at Cher Ami. She was hit almost immediately, in the breast, leg, and eye, and fell to the ground. But her injuries weren’t enough to stop her. Amazingly, she took off again, flapping upward through another storm of bullets and flying 25 miles in less than half an hour to reach her base. She arrived blinded in one eye and coated in blood, but her message was still dangling from her wounded leg.

Orders were given to stop the attack straightaway, and 194 of the American soldiers that had been surrounded were rescued. Cher Ami means “dear friend” in French, so the bird’s name was a very good one—she was celebrated as a hero. The medics at the base made her a wooden leg to replace the one that had been shot, and she was given the French Croix de Guerre, a war medal.
Whole books have been written about Cher Ami. Her story has even appeared in films. After the war, she returned to America by boat and was made part of the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame. Her one-legged body is still on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. It’s a fitting way to remember a very determined bird and the long, courageous flight she made while the battle raged around her.

“So with the message tied on tight,

I flew up straight with all my might;

Before I got up high enough,

Those watchful guns began to puff.

Machine-gun bullets came like rain,

You’d think I was an airplane;

And when I started to the rear,

My! the shot was coming near!

But on I flew, straight as a bee,

The wind could not catch up with me.”

—excerpt from the poem “Cher Ami,” by Harry Webb Farrington

About The Author

Ben Lerwill grew up in a small village in England, where he spent most of his time either outside, dreaming or reading—sometimes all at the same time. He works as a travel writer and children’s author, and when he’s not doodling in notebooks overseas he lives with his family in a (different) small village in England.

About The Illustrator

Sarah Walsh grew up in upstate New York. When she was young she was obsessed with animals. So much so that she wanted to be one, and wore different animal costumes all year round. She also knew in her heart that she would be an artist someday…if she worked hard enough! Sarah is now an internationally published illustrator and lives with her family in Kansas City.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (February 4, 2020)
  • Length: 112 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534454842
  • Grades: 3 and up
  • Ages: 8 - 99
  • Lexile ® 1020L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

"Vibrant illustrations enhance the sense of personality, bringing these animals to life....A solid addition to nonfiction collections, perfect for fans of animal history and inspirational stories."

– Booklist Online, April 1, 2020

"An interesting collection of tales for readers who enjoy true stories about unusual animals."

– School Library Journal, January 31, 2020

Awards and Honors

  • Eureka! Excellence in Nonfiction Award Honor Title (CA)

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this illustrator: Sarah Walsh

More books in this series: Stories That Shook Up the World