Saturday, September 09, 2006

Elephants On Parade

Today I am bringing you reviews of three nonfiction picture books on one of my favorite subjects: elephants. These three books highlight the talents and majesty of these magnificent animals. Ballet of the Elephants by Leda Schubert tells the true story of how a team of talented individuals taught a group of fifty elephants an intricate (meaning complex) dance number. Elephants Can Paint Too by Katya Arnold explores the more artistic and creative side of elephants. The third book, An Elephant In the Backyard, shows an intimate picture of how elephants and humans live and work together in Thailand.

Schubert, Leda. 2006. Ballet of the Elephants.

BALLET OF THE ELEPHANTS by Leda Schubert is a charming book telling the story of three talented men and fifty performing elephants. In April 1942, a unique show opened: Circus Polka, the brainchild of three men with very different backgrounds: John Ringling North, George Balanchine, and Igor Stravinsky. The book briefly describes the individual lives of the three men, the collaboration between the three men in the creative process, the training of the elephants in preparation for the show, and the show itself. The book concludes with background notes from the author which adds even more interest to the book. For example, the author notes that during her research she learned that "the elephants, even when they retired, so loved the ballet and were so well trained that they performed it all by themselves, without music." There is also a black and white photograph of the real performance!

Arnold, Katya. 2005. Elephants Can Paint Too.

ELEPHANTS CAN PAINT TOO is a great nonfiction book for young readers. Arnold takes a simple and informative approach to writing. “I teach in two schools. One is in the city. The other is in the jungle. Some of my students have hands. Others have trunks.” She then proceeds to show page by page the similarities and differences between teaching painting to human children and to elephants. Informative sidebars provide more information about elephants without interfering with the flow of the simple text. “Some students eat grass. Others eat peanut butter and jelly. But they all love cookies.” The corresponding side bar reads “Elephants are vegetarians that eat grass, leaves, twigs, and fruit. They also like human food, especially ice cream. Each day they eat about three hundred pounds of food (as much as twelve cows eat) and drink thirty-five gallons of water (as much as a whole bathtub full). They use their trunks to put the food into their mouths and to slurp up the water.” Arnold’s use of comparisons is useful for explaining things to both children and adults. Her writing can also be humorous, one sidebar reads, “Elephants have 150,000 muscles in their trunks. (Our entire body has only 639 muscles.) Some elephants hold the brush by wrapping their trunks around it. Others hold it inside their trunks. If an elephant throws the brush away or eats it, he probably won’t become an artist.” But by far the greatest highlight of ELEPHANTS CAN PAINT TOO are the photographs by the author, Katya Arnold. There is an author’s note providing more information about how you can buy elephant art and support the Asian elephants.

Sobol, Richard. 2004. An Elephant In the Backyard.

Set in Tha Klang, Thailand, AN ELEPHANT IN THE BACKYARD is the latest photo essay picture book by Richard Sobol. Engaging text and photos invite children to explore a unique Thailand village where elephants play an active role in the human community. "Like most villages in Thailand, Tha Klang is filled with all kinds of people...But what makes Tha Klang different from other villages is that it has elephants, too. For the children of Tha Klang, elephants are part of their families." The heroine of AN ELEPHANT IN THE BACKYARD is the village's most famous elephant, Wan Pen. This special elephant is introduced as the four-legged sister of Jak and Muay. "She is friendly and gentle, happy to walk through the neighborhood with the children riding on her back, stopping to pick up friends who run alongside, eager for a ride." Full of factual trivia about elephants and Thailand, Sobol shows readers a whole new world where elephants walk on balance beams, play soccer with the local kids, and attend school--elephant school that is! "Her lessons look more like gymastics class. Even though she weighs as much as a car and has a big fat belly, she learns to balance and walk on narrow boards and steps. She can bow and kneel, dance and shake her butt, and even raise her trunk to say hello or ask for food or drink."

Combining interesting facts with engaging--almost unbelievable--photos, AN ELEPHANT IN THE BACKYARD is an enjoyable book for kids of all ages. Sobol also provides his readers with additional facts about elephants in his afterward.

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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

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I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

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