Written by Bruce Robinson and Illustrated by Sophie Windham
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2000
Imagine a town, in a country, where a simple thing like an Elephant had never been seen, or even heard of…
The plot in a nutshell: An elephant arrives in a town that has never seen one before and they attempt to figure out exactly what it is
Elephants are such strange animals. From the sheer size of them to their wrinkly skin to their oversize ears, they are just fascinating creatures. So it’s easy to imagine that a town full of people who have never seen one before would be truly puzzled about one. In this book, even the elephant is confused. He doesn’t know who or what he is any more than the townspeople. The citizens of the town try using the strange new arrival as a train engine, a garbage collector and a fire engine, but he doesn’t appear to be any of those things. Eventually, a professor (with some help from a local boy who has known all along) tells them he is an elephant and the town welcomes him with open arms.
The team behind this book is husband and wife Bruce Robinson and Sophie Windham. Ms. Windham’s artwork is lovely, particularly her detail on the elephant. She makes him a character you’re rooting for from the first page. And several pages feature special artwork borders across the top or bottom that add to the story or the other artwork on the page. There’s a little yellow bird that shows up in most of the pictures, so if you (or your little one) likes to search for things, that’s an added bonus.
There is one thing about this book that I find annoying and that’s its use of a plot device that I believe is ridiculously overused. Early on, when the townspeople are trying to guess what the elephant is, the local boy (Eric) tries to tell them he knows what it is, but they ignore him, apparently because he has a habit of telling tall tales. If you’re trying to figure out a puzzle, why would you refuse to even listen to anyone who says they know the answer? I keep seeing this same behavior in movies, TV shows and books, and I find it very difficult to accept as real, so it takes me right out of the story every time. And I guess I just don’t see what purpose it serves to have them ignore him through the whole book. It would be better, in my opinion, if he just comes in at the end to help them solve the puzzle.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that, when presented with new ideas, it’s best to get to know them for who they are, rather than trying to fit them into roles you already know.