Amusing my two sons Dimitri and Simon when they were small, was a never-ending task. I tried folk tales, children's stories, nonsense poems, and the illustrations of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac for inspiration. Nothing worked. But I did come up with an evening of stories called "The Tales of Uncle Jo."

Here are three stories from that collection.

Many years ago, two friends and I went on safari in Kenya. This was long before the air conditioned SUVs and luxury hunting lodges that tourists use now. All we had were two Maasai guides and an old World War Two army jeep. All day we drove through the bush watching animals eat, play and hunt and every night the guides took us to little villages to eat and sleep. It was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The last day but one, we were deep in the bush when the left side of our jeep slipped into a huge pothole. We pushed and pulled but we couldn’t get it out. As night was coming on, the guides said we should stay where we were and they would walk to the nearest village and get help. We lit a big fire to keep the animals away, pulled mosquito nets over us and hunkered down in the jeep to sleep.

We were so scared we didn’t sleep a wink. It was dark and we could barely see the moon and stars. We must have been close to a watering hole because all night long we heard the grunting and howls of elephants and hyenas as they passed right by us sometimes not more than twenty yards away. We saw a leopard padding through the bushes. We thought it would just be a matter of time before we were attacked by lions. And then came the strangest huffing, puffing and snorting yet. We peeked our heads up and there, staring right at us no more than thirty yards away, was a huge rhinoceros with a horn at the end of its nose. I’ll call him Freddy.

We knew that rhinoceroses couldn’t see very well, but that their sense of smell and hearing were very good. Freddy must have smelled us and I can only guess that he didn’t like the way we smelled. He started pawing the ground and tossing his massive head in the air. Without saying a word to one another we pulled off the mosquito net, jumped out of the jeep and took off running.

The next second Freddy charged. Rhinoceroses may look heavy and clumsy but they can run – fast! There was a huge explosion! I thought the next moment Freddy would stomp us into the ground. But he just roared and raced off into the darkness. We stopped running and carefully made our way back to the jeep. Then we started laughing and hollering because although the right side of the jeep was smashed in, Freddy had somehow knocked it out of the hole and it was now standing on the ground perfectly upright on its own four wheels. We quickly got in and drove off as fast as we could.

The next day the guides and villagers kept pinching us because they couldn’t believe we were unharmed. Some of them said it was magic others said it was a miracle. One old woman didn’t agree. “It wasn’t magic or a miracle,” she said. “He was helping you. He knew you were stuck. Why do you think he waited until you got out of the jeep before he charged? He didn’t want to hurt you.”

The more I thought about what she said, the more I thought that perhaps she was right. Now I’m convinced of it. That’s why I wrote this story. Thank you, Freddy.
for children

Click on each image below for an absolutely FREE version of the story.

How the Rhinoceros Got His Horn

Performed by the author with music by Bruce Langhorne.

Two sample pages for the book by Oscar Grillo.


What made Aria different from the other children in her village was not that she was the youngest or the prettiest, but that she could not speak...

Wonderful illustrations by Sophy Williams with music by Bruce Langhorne.

Will he live with his nose to the ground -- or his eyes on the skies?

Brought to life with glorious illustrations by Oscar Grillo and Deborah Daly.

Archie the Anteater (8 min), Aria (8 min), and
Freddy (or How the Rhinoceros Got his Horn)
(16 min).