How do you write a children’s book about political corruption? It becomes quite simple when the real life story features a rhinoceros. Little Una by Elizabeth Olds is about a rhino that lives in a zoo and is beloved by the city’s children. When the mayor and city council decide to sell the rhino in order to build a monument to themselves, the children decide to teach them a lesson. They nominate Little Una for mayor and on election day the rhino wins by a landslide! Appropriately humbled, the city council leads a parade to the zoo and agrees not to sell Little Una.
The book was inspired by real events that took place in São Paulo, Brazil in 1959. The citizens were so fed up with the rampant government corruption that they created a campaign to write in the rhinoceros from the local zoo. Her name was Cacareco, which makes “rubbish” in Portuguese, and she became the mascot for a reform movement. People printed up ballots that listed her as part of the “Independent Party” and her unofficial slogan was, “Better a rhino, than an a**.” When all the ballots were counted she had received a stunning 100,000 votes and beat 11 different political parties in a massive victory!
Elizabeth Olds based her book Little Una on these real life events, but it takes place in a land “far, far away.” The colorful pictures Olds created of the children and animals in the zoo are a combination of several artistic techniques including collage and wood block printing. At the end of the book, the animals watch a wonderful fireworks display and the children bring Little Una flowers on the anniversary of the election. The election in São Paulo was not such a happy tale and was not so easily resolved. Olds’s version makes for a much better picture book.
To find out more about the real life story of Cacareco, check out this article from Life Magazine, " Rhino Horns in on a Brazilian Election."