These individuals who chose to withhold kindness sometimes find they are denied compassion from others when it is desperately needed. Mela and the Elephant (Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2018) written by Dow Phumiruk with illustrations by Ziyue Chen is a folktale set in a jungle in Thailand. It is an adventure with unexpected results. It is a journey of self-discovery.
Mela set out to explore the banks of the Ping River near her home. Her little brother followed to the edge of the yard, hoping she'd take him along.
Mela told him to return home because he had nothing to give her in exchange for accompanying her. When Mela reached the edge of the river near the dock, she saw a large fish swimming. She jumped in her uncle's boat determined to catch it for dinner. She netted the fish but the swift river current took her into the jungle.
Fortunately the boat got stuck in tree roots but unfortunately Mela could not see her village. When she asked a crocodile to tow her home, he agreed accepting the fish as payment. As soon as he had the fish, he quickly left her. Moving from the rock to shore, she started to walk.
When a leopard softly approached, Mela requested help. She was lost. The large cat knew the way to her village. Offering up her sweater to keep the animal warm at night, he stole it and ran.
A trio of monkeys tricked the girl too. Darkness falls and sitting on the ground Mela cried. Suddenly noises signaled something large was coming toward her. An elephant came into view. Mela had nothing left to give if help was extended. On this day a generous heart needed nothing.
Without realizing it readers are immediately introduced to a behavior in need of help when Mela refuses her brother. Dow Phumiruk quickly places the main protagonist in peril. The storytelling technique of three is splendidly used bringing us to the point when the elephant comes to Mela. The integration of dialogue with the narrative text engages us in Mela's every movement during her day. Here is a passage.
Mela looked around her. Tall trees blocked out most of
the sun's light. Leaves stirred overhead and the river rushed at
her side. She pointed herself upstream and started to walk.
A leopard slinked into sight.
"Leopard, I am lost.
Do you know a way back to the village?"
On the opened and matching dust jacket and book case the use of white as an element accentuates Mela and the elephant. Using leaves around the title text takes us into the Thailand jungle before we even begin the story. To the left, on the back, in a smaller image Mela is trying without luck to paddle in the splashing water back to her village. Jungle is on both sides of the river.
In shades of green on the opening and closing endpapers illustrator Ziyue Chen has placed darker leaves on a light canvas. The full two-page picture on the verso and title pages is a view of the jungle, shore and river from the heights of a tree. Throughout the title, illustration sizes vary between two-page pictures, single pages and several smaller visuals on a single page to promote pacing.
By the expressions on the faces of Mela, her little brother and the animals we are well aware of their moods. If we are careful observers we might see hints of their inner personalities. Whenever we catch glimpses of the sky we can tell the time of day; noting the passage of the hours.
Each illustration is a like a framed moment enhancing the story's text. One of my favorite illustrations is when Mela has removed her sweater. She is happily standing in the jungle holding it up in front of her. Her backpack is next to her in the grass. The seated leopard has its back to us in the foreground. It's a hopeful moment but also one filled with tension. What will the leopard do?
Set in Thailand this tender tale is sure to resonate with readers of all ages. Mela and the Elephant written by Dow Phumiruk with illustrations by Ziyue Chen reminds us kindness from a pure heart is freely given. For a thematic story time on kindness this is an excellent choice. In an author's note Dow talks about Thailand and how gratitude is portrayed there. You could pair this book with Be Kind Roaring Brook Press, February 6, 2018 written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Jen Hill. At the post for that title other books on kindness are listed.
To learn more about Dow Phumiruk and Ziyue Chen and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Both Dow and Ziyue are on Twitter. You can find Dow on Instagram as well as Ziyue. Ziyue has an account on Tumblr. Ziyue is featured at Miss Marple's Musings. At the publisher's website you can view interior portions of the book. I hope you enjoy the trailer.