The Elephants Come Home by Kim Tomsic

Cover image of The Elephants Come Home.

The Elephants Come Home by Kim Tomsic, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (9781452127835)

Based on a true story, this picture book shows the immense connection and love that can come from saving elephants. Lawrence Anthony and Francoise Malby owned an animal sanctuary, Thula Thula, in Africa. In 1999, they rescued a herd of wild elephants who were causing damage where they had been living. But it was not as simple as creating a space for the elephants and moving them in. The elephants were not sure they wanted to stay, and certainly didn’t want to be penned in. They made that clear after destroying their first enclosure and escaping. Lawrence and Francoise had to act quickly to avoid the elephants being slaughtered by hunters, so they called in the help of a helicopter, who found them and managed to move them back to Thula Thula. Lawrence decided to camp with the elephants, forming a bond with their matriarch, Nana. Once that happened, they were able to leave their enclosure and head into the full Thula Thula sanctuary with the other animals. They could visit the farmhouse whenever they wanted too. It was when tragedy struck though that the true connection to the elephants became clear.

This incredibly moving story shows the connection that can happened between human and animal, one that goes both directions through gentleness, protection and a deep understanding of one another’s value. The patience that Lawrence shows through the book is notable and is what allows him to bond with the herd. People who already love elephants will find new knowledge here about conservation, protection and how very intelligent they are.

The art feels like a series of prints, each created with watercolor, ink and printmaking. The colors are magnificent from the blues of late night to the dusty oranges of African day to the lush greens of Thula Thula itself. The elephants are drawn with real character, their hugeness and their emotions clear in each image.

A remarkable story worth enjoying with your own herd. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.

The Shadow Elephant by Nadine Robert

Cover image for The Shadow Elephant

The Shadow Elephant by Nadine Robert, illustrated by Valerio Vidali (9781592703128)

The elephant was staying in the shadows, not speaking or engaging with anyone. The other animals decide to try to cheer him up. First, the monkey told the funniest joke he knew, but the elephant didn’t even smile. The ostrich sisters did a dance, but elephant didn’t even move. The crocodile brought him a treat of acacia leaves, but the elephant just sighed. Then a small white mouse came up out of breath and asked to rest near the elephant. The elephant asked if the mouse was there to tell a story, but she just wanted to rest. So the two of them sat quietly together. The mouse eventually shared part of her story, making the elephant cry. The mouse cried too. Finally, when they were done crying, the elephant felt lighter and was able to stand up. The two headed off to find the mouse’s home together.

Translated from the French, this picture book about emotions and sadness shows how separate these blue emotions can make us feel. The elephant remains in the shadows, silent and sad, not even able to weep. Then the smallest of creatures with the simplest of gestures shows empathy. It’s that shared experience, the silence together, the moments taken, not to distract but to be with one another. The power of that, shown in such simple ways, resonates throughout the book.

The illustrations are full of contrasts. The pages with the elephant glow with blues and lurk with dark shadows. The elephant is almost a mountain at night, large and unmoving. The other animals are bright and colorful, the sky a beaming blue and the ground a neon yellow-green. The mouse arrives as the sun is lowering in the sky, creating a synergy between her side of the page and the elephant’s that shows their growing connection as well.

A deep look at sadness and the power of empathy to overcome it. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate (9780062991317)

Once again join the three friends Ivan, Ruby and Bob from The One and Only Ivan. Bob now lives with humans rather than in the gorilla enclosure in the mall with Ivan. He’s a dog who doesn’t want to be owned, though he does appreciate the soft blanket, regular food and even an occasional cuddle. He resents the clicker used to train him and still refuses to get into any vehicle after being thrown from a moving truck with his littermates as a tiny puppy. As a large hurricane approaches, Bob is visiting the zoo where Ivan and Ruby now live, separated by a wall. The storm hits the zoo directly, generating a tornado that has Bob airborne. As he deals with the aftermath and next wave of the storm, Bob discovers new wells of courage, his continued connection to his lifelong friends, and relocates a family he thought he’d never see again.

Told in Bob’s voice, this book is like snuggling with your favorite dog. The chapters are brief and inviting, sometimes only a few sentences long. They show the mind and life of a dog who may not easily trust people but loves so deeply when he trusts another creature. Applegate clearly adores dogs and really captures the way they might think in this story filled with scents, sounds and Bob’s own unique perspective on life.

While this book does follow the first book about Ivan, it would be possible to also read this one first. I can’t imagine that anyone reading it won’t insist immediately on knowing more about Ruby, Ivan and Bob.

Warm and funny with a remarkable canine hero. Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat (9781368027168)

Harold and Hog decide to pretend to be Elephant and Piggie in this easy reader that pays homage to the genius of Mo Willems while making something entirely new.  The two characters put on Gerald’s glasses and Piggie’s nose to help them pretend. Harold starts to describe what Piggie is like with Piggie’s carefree exuberance. Harold can’t wait to try to be Gerald with his carefulness too. Harold wants to be careful as he dances, flies and does so many things! Suddenly Harold realizes that he can’t be Gerald and Hog can’t be Piggie, they just can’t pretend that much. Perhaps though there is a solution!

Filled with exactly the right dialogue and humor, this is a very clever take on the classic Elephant and Piggie. The art itself pulls the story far enough away from Elephant and Piggie to make it clear that this is different. Add to that the juxtaposing attitudes of Harold and Hog and you have a set up for pure delight. The book even includes a touch of Pigeon to round it all out.

Smart, funny and just what Mo would want. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Goose Egg by Liz Wong

The Goose Egg by Liz Wong

The Goose Egg by Liz Wong (9780553511574)

Henrietta is an elephant who loved quiet. Most of all, she loved the lake and sinking below its surface into silence. She would get lost in her thoughts and just swim. But one day, she got too lost in her head and she banged it on a pole! She went home and discovered that she had a big lump, a goose egg, on her head. She bandaged the bump and stayed quiet until something on her head hatched open! She reached up and found a gosling. She tried taking the baby goose back to her nest, but the mother goose never returned. So now quiet Henrietta had a very noisy gosling to take care of. Goose got louder as she grew bigger. By then, Henrietta realized that she needed to teach Goose to be a goose. So she taught her how to look for food, how to swim behind, how to flap her wings and more. Eventually, it was time for Goose to fly south. Henrietta was able to return to her quiet life again, but it wasn’t the same. Henrietta dreamed of Goose’s honking and longed to hear it again, until one day she did!

Wong takes a one-liner joke about a goose egg on the head being a real goose’s egg and turns it into a completely charming picture book. Readers who enjoy a bit of quiet will find a kindred spirit in Henrietta while those who enjoy a more raucous life will relate to Goose. The pair of them are opposites and manage to teach one another things along the way. The book has a gentle tone, allowing the story to unwind before the reader at its own pace.

Wong’s illustrations are done on a white background that nicely frames the drama of the bumped head, the goose egg and then the hatching. The images have subtle coloring until Goose appears in his bright yellow feathers, showing visually how he change Henrietta’s life. The illustrations take on a vaudeville humor as Goose and Henrietta interact. Then Henrietta’s solution for teaching Goose is a lovely visual as well.

A sweet and gentle tale of adoption, letting go and returning home. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf.

Review: Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Seve

Zola's Elephant by Randall de Seve

Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Seve, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (9781328886293)

In this exceptional picture book, Zola moves in next door to a little girl. The two mothers have already met and decided the girls should be friends, but the little girl knows that Zola already has a friend. After all, Zola has a box large enough for an elephant and the girl knows that elephants make wonderful friends. As the girl heads different noises, she also thinks about the fun that Zola is having with her elephant. They are taking merry baths together, playing hide-and-seek, and building a lovely clubhouse together. But the truth is shown in the illustrations, explaining the noises that are being heard as much more mundane and downright lonely. Will the little girl have the courage to head over and meet Zola for real?

The text here is rich and evocative. It displays the wealth of imagination that the nameless narrator has as she builds entire worlds of play and merriment from seeing one large box and hearing some noises. It is a book that explores shyness and loneliness and how they live side-by-side and how they can be fixed by one act of bravery. Beautifully, the lonely new neighbor’s pages have no words on them, allowing the image to simply tell the truth.

With illustrations by a two-time Caldecott honoree, the illustrations are detailed, deep and beautiful. Zagarenski manages to create two parallel worlds, one of imagination and brightness and the other stark and blue with isolation. She then captures the moment when those two worlds meet. Done with a circus theme that is embedded in all of the illustrations, she pays homage to the elephant fully even though it doesn’t actually exist.

Beautiful and rich, this picture book is unique and imaginative. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 Picture Books that Celebrate Community

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (9781452155418)

A superb concept book that has a definite Muslim flair that is very welcome. The rhyming story opens with the cone-shaped tops of the minaret. Rectangle is the mosque’s door. Then readers get invited in to see octagon fountains, arches, triangles formed by stairs. The book moves on to gardens, a shared meal at an oval table. It ends with a crescent moon in the sky.

I appreciate that this concept book about shapes offers many shapes that are not the expected ones like cones and crescents. Add in the focus on diversity that is inherent on each page, and this book is certainly something special. The book includes Muslim terms that are used in the text and then defined in the glossary at the end of the book. The illustrations are modern and bright, a mix of tradition and modernity that shines on the page. The shapes are clear and easily found in each image. A gem of a picture book that belongs in all collections. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrated by Jason Chin (9781626725621)

Join a family on their Fourth of July celebration at the lake, complete with pie for everyone to share. There are other things that are perfect for sharing too, like a book, a ball and a tree. How about sharing a jump rope and a rhyme to skip by? As the book progresses, more and more children play together along the shore and even more things are shared. There are stick and stones, boats and water, stories, hugs and hideouts. And in the end, fireworks and another slice of pie!

This Fourth of July book truly looks at the holiday through the eyes of a child. It is lit by sparklers and fireworks as evening comes, but the day itself is brightened by all of the time spent as a family and a community. New friends are made; old friendships are strengthened. The illustrations are particularly lovely. They use child-height perspectives as well as other inventive ones to really see the holiday from a little-one’s point of view. The illustrations are realistic, sun filled and pure summer on a page.

Share this one any day of the year! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

You_re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar

You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry (9781911373292)

On a dark and stormy night, the little animals could not call asleep. Mama Elephant stayed with them. She rocked them in her trunk, repeating “You’re safe with me.” The wind moaned in the trees, awakening the little animals. Mama Elephant explained that the wind carries seeds from faraway into the forest. Thunder sounded startling the little animals. Mama Elephant explained that with thunder comes the rain that waters the seeds from the wind. Lightning flashed and Mama Elephant soothed the little animals with tales of the stars coming back to the sky. Finally, the river burbled and the little ones fell asleep with Mama Elephant’s refrain of “You’re safe with me.”

Told in a folklore-like style with repeating refrains and a firm story structure, this picture book carries the feeling of India with it. It carries a traditional feel, the warmth of Mama Elephant and the comfort she brings with her simple presence almost erases the storm. She uses the cycles of life, plant and animal, to reassure the little animals which makes for a rich story.

The illustrations are amazing and also have a traditional feel to them. Filled with small dots, they are deep with spice and jungle colors. Their richness creates images that children will love to look at, discovering the animals almost hidden on the pages between the leaves of the forest.

A superb bedtime book just right for stormy nights. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Lantana Publishing.)

3 New Picture Books to Explore Together

Here We Are Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (9780399167898)

With a gentle tone and a comprehensive eye, Jeffers welcomes someone newly born to our planet. He does a quick tour, whisking past the land, the sea and the sky. He mentions being careful of your body, since the part don’t just grow back. Jeffers celebrates life on earth in all of its diversity, both human and animal. There is night and day, slow and fast. The book ends with a message to share the earth with others, since there is enough for everyone. It is the tone of this picture book that is particularly effective. Jeffers embraces the contradictions of our world, the beauty of life, and the spectacular nature around us. His illustrations show the vastness of the universe and the wonder of our planet. Meant for older children who will enjoy the tone and the joy of exploration. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

How to Find an Elephant by Kate Banks

How to Find an Elephant by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (9780374335083)

Cloudy days are the best days to look for elephants. You will need to head into the wild, so make sure to pack some food and supplies like a flute, blanket and binoculars. You will need to enter the jungle and search. Look for footprints, but don’t expect to hear footsteps. Ask at any houses you find, drink at waterholes and take shelter from rain under large leaves. Have lunch, swing with a chimpanzee and fly with an eagle. You will probably find an elephant when you least expect it, so keep your eyes open! This picture book is written with lovely details that invite young readers and listeners deep into the story. There is a sense of adventure throughout, particularly due to the illustrations that cleverly hide elephants on each page. Sharp-eyed children will suddenly glimpse them and you may need to go back and find any that they may have missed. Beautifully illustrated, this book makes a great read-aloud but make sure that everyone can see the images up close. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.)

Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon

Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon (9781626723498)

George Laurent is not like other birds. He doesn’t go anywhere, not flying south or north, just staying at home. He always had something delicious cooking in his oven and the other birds would come and visit. They would invite him on their next adventure, but George would always decline and have some kind of excuse. When winter arrived, George met Pascal, a bear, out in the cold. George tries a series of excuses to explain why he is still there and then finally admits that he doesn’t know how to fly. Pascal decides to try to help George learn but they keep failing. Then they discover the hot air balloon that just went up in France. Can a goose who loves staying home love to travel too? This picture book balances a strong story line with simple text that is very inviting for young children. The book is fast paced and yet tells a deeper story of being ashamed of not knowing how to do something and how friendship can create new opportunities to learn and grow. The illustrations are a warm mix of watercolor, pencil, crayon and collage. The collage offers vintage papers that add an additional level of interest and flair. A great book to offer alongside others about learning to fly. This one just takes a very different route! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

 

Explore Nature with These 3 Picture Books

How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy

How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy (9781626721784)

This picture book celebrates elephants in a way that invites readers deeply into the life of a newborn elephant calf and all that that baby has to learn. The book opens with the birth and then the family of female elephants that will raise the infant together. The elephant’s body is explored from the way it walks and balances to the way its ears help handle the heat to the dexterity of the trunk. Sounds and food are also explored along with the habitat the elephants live in. Throughout, the book offers scientific information in a conversational way. The book is almost like a readable version of nature documentaries where facts celebrate and delight. The art of the picture book is rich and warm showing the elephants in their habitat. It also shows scientific information about structure and sound that is presented graphically and with just enough detail for young readers. An exceptional science and nature nonfiction picture book, this is one stellar pick for library collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Roaring Book Press.)

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (9780062657602)

A child and their mother head back to a small cabin on a rainy day. The child just wants to play their video game, but their mother insists on them heading outside. It is bleak and raining out but as they head into the woods, the rocks in the pond beckon them forward. Leaping from rock to rock, the video game falls into the water and is lost. The child is devastated by the loss but is soon distracted by some of the wildlife around from glowing snails walking in rows to mushrooms. The beauty of the rich earth below and the sun coming through the clouds above. There is rolling down hills, quiet time in the woods, and getting soaked through. Once back home, the day is transformed entirely into something new.

This picture book is an interesting look at the tug between technology and spending time outside. I enjoyed the child realizing that the world is fascinating and a place to explore that is far better than the small world of the game that they have already played. The warm little cabin and the isolation also add to the appeal of the book and the pleasure of a newfound way to spend time outdoors. Throughout the book there is a sense of quiet and wonder. That is emphasized by the images that fill the pages with trees, water, dirt and plants. It is rather like being immersed in a rainy day yourself. A great book to read and then set off on outdoor adventures together on a rainy day. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Pond by Nicola Davies

The Pond by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Cathy Fisher (9781912050703)

Told in the voice of a boy who has lost his father, this book shows the connection of people to nature and through that connection to one another. The boy’s father had always wanted a pond in the backyard, but when he died all he left behind was a muddy hole. Ducks tried to land in the mucky hole and the boy tried to fill it with water, but it created an even larger mess. Then one day, his mother lined the hole and surrounded it with rocks. Soon there was an ecosystem forming with tadpoles, insects, algae and newts. When the water lily finally bloomed, it was time for the family to move to a new house, but the memory of the pond would stay with them forever and they would create a new one in their new place. Written with deep emotion both about grief in a family and also about connection to nature, this picture book shows rebirth in a very organic way. The illustrations are rich and lovely, celebrating the transformation from a hole to a pond with life. A touching and hope-filled book. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)