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Happy World Elephant Day!

It’s the fifth annual World Elephant Day, a celebration begun “to bring attention to the urgent plight of Asian and African elephants. The elephant is loved, revered and respected by people and cultures around the world, yet we balance on the brink of seeing the last of this magnificent creature.”

Visit the website to learn how you can help elephants, then check out these books about the larger-than-life creatures. All were recommended at their time of publication by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide; reviews reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online.

Picture Books

barrow_have you seen elephantBarrow, David Have You Seen Elephant?
32 pp. Gecko 2016. ISBN 978-1-776570-08-9 Ebook ISBN 978-1-77657-044-7

(Preschool) A confident elephant challenges a young (mixed-race) boy to hide-and-seek. The boy, with his dog’s help, searches for the elephant indoors and out. Unlike the boy, viewers will have no trouble spotting the elephant, and they’ll find humor in the mismatch of elephant and hiding places. The pictures, softly impressionistic at times and in splashy hues throughout, give a sense of movement.

tweakBunting, Eve Tweak Tweak
40 pp. Clarion 2011. ISBN 978-0-618-99851-7

(Preschool) Illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. “‘Hold on to my tail, Little Elephant,’ Mama Elephant said. ‘…If you want to ask me a question, tweak twice.'” Tweak and ask she does: from the names of the animals they encounter to what each is doing. Can she, Little Elephant, do those things, too? The pairing of Bunting’s elegant text with Ruzzier’s offbeat art, including surreal, rather Seussian landscapes, is unexpectedly fabulous.

curato_little elliot big cityCurato, Mike Little Elliot, Big City
40 pp. Holt 2014. ISBN 978-0-8050-9825-9

(Preschool) It’s hard being small for diminutive, polka-dotted elephant Elliot (all the more amusingly incongruous in a 1930s-esque New York). When Elliot can’t be seen over the bakery counter, he and an even-smaller mouse team up to purchase a cupcake. Children will relate to Elliot’s experiences, e.g., reaching for the too-high doorknob. Pencil and Photoshop illustrations have a muted effect befitting the old-fashioned setting. Look for the 2015 sequel Little Elliot, Big Family.

debrunhoff_babarde Brunhoff, Jean and Brunhoff, Laurent de Babar’s Anniversary Album: Six Favorite Stories
144pp. pp. Random 1993. ISBN 0-394-84813-6

(Gr. K–3) Reissue, 1981. Introduction by Maurice Sendak. This compilation of six stories — three by Jean de Brunhoff, Babar’s creator, and three by Jean’s son Laurent — about the French elephant was originally published to commemorate Babar’s fiftieth birthday. The volume includes a photo-essay by Laurent de Brunhoff that includes family photographs and sketches and paintings by both Laurent and his father.

Javaherbin_elephant in the darkJavaherbin, Mina Elephant in the Dark: Based on a Poem by Rumi
40 pp. Scholastic 2015. ISBN 978-0-545-63670-4

(Gr. K–3) Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. When merchant Ahmad brings a mysterious creature to his village, curious villagers climb through a window in his barn, each touching just a part of the creature and leaping to conclusions about what it might be. Yelchin’s paintings balance the characteristic Persian style of repetitive patterns with lots of open space. The book should provide opportunities for discussions about perception.

knapman_soonKnapman, Timothy Soon
32 pp. Candlewick 2015. ISBN 978-0-7636-7478-6

(Preschool) Illustrated by Patrick Benson. Lovely watercolors in a muted palette of greens, browns, and grays illustrate this quiet story. An elephant and her small son go for a walk and see other animals before climbing to the top of a mountain. After each encounter the baby asks, “‘When can we go home again?’…’Soon,’ said his mother.” Once home, Raju wants to do it again.

mckee_elmersxmasMcKee, David Elmer’s Christmas
32 pp. Andersen 2011. ISBN 978-0-7613-8088-7

(Gr. K–3) After a day of Christmas preparation, patchwork elephant Elmer and seven young elephants spy on Papa Red (complete with Santa hat and whiskers). While watching him gather gifts from under their tree, Elmer explains, “this is the season for giving.” McKee’s story sends a friendly reminder about the importance of generosity during the holidays. Playful, vividly colored illustrations complement the cheery tone.

stead_special deliveryStead, Philip C. Special Delivery
40 pp. Roaring Brook/Porter 2015. ISBN 978-1-59643-931-3

(Preschool) Illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Young Sadie wants to deliver an elephant to her great-aunt. The mailman says, “Find another way,” so Sadie borrows an airplane (with questionable results); hires an alligator river guide; and boards a train full of monkey bandits. Loose, sketchy pen-and-ink drawings with watercolor washes create exaggerated energy and expression; the tight text relies on page turns for plot twists. A dynamic read-aloud.

willems_elephants_cant_danceWillems, Mo Elephants Cannot Dance!
64 pp. Hyperion 2009. ISBN 978-1-4231-1410-9

(Gr. K–3) Elephant & Piggie Book series. Elephant Gerald intones, “Elephants cannot dance.” But as it turns out, elephants can try to dance. Even though Gerald can’t keep up with Piggie, he has a few (unwitting) moves of his own. Color-coded speech bubbles in this easy reader focus attention on the simple words and expressive illustrations. The easily understood story will provide instant reading success and lots of laughs.



One and Only IvanApplegate, Katherine The One and Only Ivan
307 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4

(Gr. 4–6) Illustrated by Patricia Castelao. In short chapters that have the look and feel of prose poems, Applegate captures the voice of Ivan, a captive gorilla who lives at the “Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.” When a new baby elephant arrives, Ivan realizes they deserve more than their restrictive environment. Ivan’s range of thoughts and emotions poses important questions about kinship and humanity. 2013 Newbery Medal winner.

dicamillo_magicianselephantDiCamillo, Kate The Magician’s Elephant
202 pp. Candlewick 2009. ISBN 978-0-7636-4410-9

(Gr. 4–6) Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. In a fictional Old World city, Peter searches for his sister, instructed by a fortuneteller to “follow the elephant.” The book’s theme is the triumph of hope over despair, as Peter’s idea that the “world is broken” gives way to a belief in possibility. DiCamillo’s prose is remarkable in this allegorical and surreal novel.

adpreview_dinersteinDinerstein, Eric  What Elephants Know
278 pp. Disney/Hyperion 2016. ISBN 978-1-4847-2854-3 Ebook ISBN 978-1-4847-4870-1

(Gr. 4–6) Nandu, an adopted boy in the King’s elephant stable in 1970s Nepalese Borderlands, must find a way to save his stable when the King orders it shut down. Diverse episodes, including bullying, a murder charge, and friendship with an American, lead to the eventual solution. Concrete cultural details, close ties to the elephants, and exceptional descriptions of remote jungle terrain distinguish this historical tale.

fleischman_the-white-elephantFleischman, Sid The White Elephant
95 pp. Greenwillow 2006. ISBN 0-06-113136-9 LE ISBN 0-06-113137-7

(Gr. 1–3) When Run-Run’s elephant accidentally sprays water on a cranky prince, he and Run-Run get a gift they neither want nor can handle: Sahib, a sacred white elephant. Fleischman’s original tale tells a touching story of the enduring power of love. Short chapters, evocative pencil sketches, and a rich Siamese setting will hold the interest of readers and listeners alike.

kelly_chainedKelly, Lynne Chained
248 pp. Farrar/Ferguson 2012. ISBN 978-0-374-31237-4

(Gr. 4–6) Ten-year-old Hastin must endure the cruelty of his employer, a circus owner. Kelly crafts a layered, convincing tale of interspecies friendship as Hastin comes to understand his charge, Nandita, an elephant calf. A kind older man proves an ally in Hastin’s quest to protect Nandita, but it is the bond between boy and elephant that will stick in readers’ minds.



lewin_balaramaLewin, Ted and Lewin, Betsy Balarama: A Royal Elephant
56 pp. Lee 2009. ISBN 978-1-60060-265-8

(Gr. K–3) In Mysore in southern India, elephants are featured in the annual Dasara festival procession. The Lewins describe Balarama’s triumphant first appearance as procession leader. Pageantry and noble beasts alike are vividly realized in Ted Lewin’s signature watercolors, while Betsy Lewin’s agile drawings add deft characterizations, lively action, and humor. It’s a gorgeous glimpse at a continuing custom. “Elephant Facts” are appended. Glos.

lewin_Elephant-QuestLewin, Ted and Lewin, Betsy Elephant Quest
48 pp. HarperCollins 2000. ISBN 0-688-14111-0 LE ISBN 0-688-14112-9

(Gr. K–3) In search of African elephants in Botswana, the Lewins provide careful observations of animals in their habitats that lend insight into animal behaviors and survival tactics. Throughout, a cheerful tone combines with reverence for the beauty and variety of nature. Betsy Lewin’s humorous, emotive sketches and Ted Lewin’s full-page paintings illustrate their encounters.

oconnell_a-baby-elephant-in-the-wildO’Connell, Caitlin A Baby Elephant in the Wild
40 pp. Houghton 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-14944-1

(Gr. K–3) Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. In text and numerous color photographs we follow a newborn female elephant through her first months in the Namibian scrub desert as she learns the behaviors that will enable her to survive. The account is straightforward and unsentimental yet filled with detailed and fascinating scientific information, including the lifelong ties among elephants that will resonate with readers’ own experience of family.

The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O'Connell and Donna M JacksonO’Connell, Caitlin and Jackson, Donna M. The Elephant Scientist
71 pp. Houghton 2011. ISBN 978-0-547-05344-8

(Gr. 4–6) Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. Scientists in the Field series. Scientist O’Connell’s contributions to our understanding of elephant communication propel this account. O’Connell and Jackson describe the findings in a way that lets readers witness the unfolding of a research program, as hypotheses lead to new insights that beget even more questions. The many photographs, predominantly from Namibian field sites, capture the majestic elder elephants, their always-appealing offspring, and dusty, rugged landscapes. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind. 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book winner.

schubert_balletSchubert, Leda Ballet of the Elephants
32 pp. Roaring Brook/Brodie 2006. ISBN 1-59643-075-3

(Gr. K–3) Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Big, lumbering elephants performing a ballet? This event did happen — with fifty elephants (and fifty human ballerinas). Four individuals (John Ringling North, George Balanchine, Igor Stravinsky, and Vera Zorina) are artfully introduced through background material that connects each person to the whole. Parker’s loosely scrawled ink outlines contribute to the magical tone. A personal yet informative author’s note is appended. Further reading, websites.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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