Free Listen to the audiobook for kids:
One hot afternoon, Jasper the Lion, Richard the Meerkat, and Susan the Zebra were lounging on a hill under a shady tree. From here, they had a great view of the African savannah.
Since the rainy season was almost over, and the bushes and trees hung full of green leaves, a lot of animals had been gathering at the watering holes.
From their shady spot, the three friends enjoyed watching them. They found the large elephants especially entertaining, as they could suck vast amounts of water into their long trunks.
“If this keeps up, the watering hole will dry up in a few days!” said Richard.
Jasper and Susan were only listening with one ear. They were busy with their card game. Just as Susan was about to put down her last card and joyfully announce her win, a passing wildebeest stopped and looked at them.
“What a strange zebra you are,” the wildebeest said, looking Susan over from top to bottom.
Richard jumped up and stood in front of her. “Who are you, and what exactly is strange about our friend?” he said defensively.
“You don’t you see it?” the wildebeest asked, still looking at Susan in amazement.
Now Jasper also sat up and asked, “What exactly don’t we see?”
Jasper and Richard both looked Susan up and down.
Richard said, “I don’t see anything. That’s how Susan always looks!”
Susan felt very uncomfortable. She had never been examined like this before, nor had anyone called her strange. She would have liked to hide completely behind her friends or crawl behind the tree. But it was too late.
Now the entire herd of wildebeests stopped to stare. They were looking at Susan and mumbling to themselves.
The smallest and youngest wildebeest of the herd was the last to notice the three friends under the tree and called out happily, “Look at the zebra under the tree! It only has three stripes. I’ve never seen that before!”
Everyone turned to look at Susan. Jasper and Richard also counted her stripes.
“They’re right!” said Jasper. “You only have three stripes. I’ve never noticed that before.”
Now that it was vocalized, it no longer seemed particularly interesting and the herd started moving on.
Susan would have loved to vanish into thin air. Richard sensed Susan’s discomfort.
“It doesn’t matter what those wildebeests say!” he said cheerfully. “I never noticed your stripes before. Forget about them!”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me that I only have three stripes?” Susan said angrily.
Richard and Jasper looked at each other, and shook their heads trying to think of something to say. But it was too late. Susan lowered her head and ran away.
Worried about their friend, Richard and Jasper tried to figure out what to do next.
“Those mean wildebeests!” said Jasper. “How dare they just come by here and make fun of our friend!”
The next morning, the three friends had arranged to play ball with some other animals. Everyone had already started to set up the field when Susan joined them.
“Hi, Susan! Want to play goalie?” asked the giraffe.
“Sure,!” Susan answered confidently.
Richard and Jasper looked at each other. From a distance, it looked like Susan had more stripes than the day before.
“I guess everything is fine again,” Jasper said uncertainly.
Everyone positioned themselves on the field and Jasper and Richard forgot all about it. The ball changed sides several times, and the players could hardly see each other because of the dust that had been kicked up.
Suddenly, there was loud thunder in the sky. Within a very short time, they were all soaked by an enormous rain shower.
As quickly as the rain had come, it disappeared again. Everyone was still standing in their positions. Susan had the ball under her hoof.
“Susan!” said the rhino, “What happened to your fur and why is the ball all black now?”
The others turned towards Susan, who was also looking down at herself. She was standing in a puddle of black paint, and her fur was patchy and gray.
“Susan must have painted the stripes on herself to look like the others!” Richard whispered to Jasper.
Creating a diversion, Richard drew the attention of the other players and Susan took advantage of the moment to quickly escape their gaze.
The next day, the three friends were invited for cake at Jasper’s grandmother’s house. She loved to have visitors.
Jasper and Richard were waiting at Grandma’s garden fence when Susan finally joined them. At the same moment, Jasper’s grandmother came out of her house and welcomed the three friends in from the hot afternoon sun.
“Susan, what are you doing with a raincoat in this heat?” asked Jasper’s grandmother. Susan told her about the sudden rain shower yesterday afternoon and that from now on, she would always wear a raincoat to be on the safe side.
Jasper’s grandmother assured her that there would be no danger of rain in her house and took her coat. When everyone was sitting at the table, Susan gathered all her courage to ask Jasper’s grandmother, who always knew everything, how many stripes a real zebra should have.
“What makes you think there are real zebras? That would mean that zebras who have more or fewer stripes than others are not real?” Jasper’s grandmother looked at the three curious faces at her kitchen table as she passed out the delicious cake.
Susan told Jasper’s grandmother about the events of the last few days and about the wildebeest who had said that Susan was a strange zebra because she only had three stripes.
Jasper’s grandmother smiled and went to get an old photo album.
“I’m going to show you some very special friends I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on my many travels,” she explained.
The three friends saw animals they had never seen before in the photos.
Jasper’s grandmother pointed out a turtle, panda bear, and a large kangaroo.
“Do you notice anything strange about my friends?” she asked. “What do you think, do they look kind of strange?”
The three friends looked at each other and Richard said, “No, they look very nice and like they’ve had some exciting adventures.”
Jasper’s grandmother nodded.
She told them that the turtle’s name is Patricia, and that she is one of her oldest friends. She also pointed out that Patricia’s shell has a very different pattern than other turtles.
She shared that the panda bear is named Li, and he has one longer ear that often falls into his face when he runs. And that the kangaroo, called Donna, has no pouch. Instead, she always carries a small backpack.
Jasper’s grandmother told them all about her friends’ exciting adventures.
“There are no braver animals than these three,” she said, patting Susan on the shoulder. “So you see, there is no right or wrong, real or fake. You are wonderful just the way you are, no matter how many stripes you have!”
“We told you, Susan!” said Jasper and Richard in unison. Relief spread throughout the group and everyone enjoyed Grandma’s delicious cake.