Review of Elephant in the Dark: Based on a Poem by Rumi

Javaherbin_elephant in the darkElephant in the Dark: Based on a Poem by Rumi
retold by Mina Javaherbin; 
illus. by Eugene Yelchin
Primary   Scholastic   40 pp.
8/15   978-0-545-63670-4   $17.99   g

Merchant Ahmad brings a mysterious creature to his village, “all the way from India!” While Ahmad sleeps, the curious villagers climb through a window in his barn and feel around in the dark, each touching just a part of the creature and leaping to conclusions about what it might be (“a fan!” “a snake!” “a tree trunk!”). The adult villagers begin to fight: “Into the night no one listened, but everyone shouted and shoved.” With a portraiture style drawn from Persian miniatures, Yelchin uses a variety of skin tones to portray the villagers, who wear brightly patterned and individually distinctive clothing. The story is much like Ed Young’s classic The Seven Blind Mice (rev. 3/92), but the emphasis here is on quarreling over small pieces of the truth rather than sharing knowledge 
to create a whole. The last (and wordless) spread, however, shows a group of children — with Ahmad — gathered by the river the next day to watch the creature (an elephant) bathe. Yelchin’s gouache, acrylic, and ink paintings balance the repetitive patterns characteristic of the Persian style with lots of open space. Javaherbin’s author’s note and additional appended information explain that she based 
her work on poet Rumi’s version of a story that goes back to the oral Buddhist tradition; the book should provide opportunities for rich discussions about perception and about advocating for what you believe to be true.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Susan Dove Lempke
Susan Dove Lempke
Susan Dove Lempke is a Horn Book reviewer and director of the Niles Public Library District in Illinois.

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