Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Memory Of Forever Friends

The more we know about the kingdom of animals as a whole, the more we understand about the vital importance of every single member to all life on this planet.  There is an intricate network in place.  When we choose to shift our focus to a specific animal, it's astounding what can be learned about their physical characteristics.  Each one of those qualities helps them to adapt, survive and continue to be an essential link.

It's even more interesting and exciting to discover the personality and emotional traits animals exhibit.  They are more like humans in some respects than we might think and even better than us in other aspects.  Elephants Walk Together (Albert Whitman & Company, October 1, 2017) written by Cheryl Lawton Malone with pictures by Bistra Masseva was previously highlighted here with a conversation and cover reveal.  Based upon a true story this book will increase your appreciation for these giants who walk among us.

In the wild,
two baby elephants
walk together.

Alert and animated they seek food with their herd.  As the day comes to a close and the family moves, the two baby elephants, Precious and Baba, make sounds; a conversation between friends.  All is well with the duo until the arrival of hunters.  They take the baby elephants away.

Initially separated they are joyful at discovering each other inside a circus car.  At the circus they are trained to do things elephants would not normally do.  Precious is in pain from learning tricks demanding more than her body can handle.  Baba is frightened of the trainers.  Thankfully they have each other for comfort.

Their first performance does not go well.  They are separated; Precious to a variety of zoos and Baba to one circus after another circus.  Apart for decades they mourn the loss of their companionship.

To heal Precious's feet she is sent to a sanctuary.  Healing on the outside is much easier than healing an elephant's heart.  Hope is a curious thing.  Even the smallest protected spark in one's heart can create a miracle. 

A new elephant arrives.

Having lost count of the number of times this book has been read, it still brings me to tears at the end.  Author Cheryl Lawton Malone has taken the real life affection of two elephants and fashioned a story around its center. The repetition of certain words, walking and talking, is used as a unifying rhythm several times.  She takes phrases used to describe their lives together as baby elephants and brings those full circle at the conclusion.  Here is a sample passage.

In a rattling circus car,
Precious and Baba meet again.

They trumpet their joy.
They purr, side by side.

When I look at the opened dust jacket (I am working from an F & G.), the front speaks of the joy of the two adult elephants.  To the left on the back illustrator Bistra Masseva has depicted a circus tent entrance, a circus stool and a whip.  In the foreground on the left is foliage found in a zoo setting with a steel and chain fence in front of it.  It's a poignant contrast between what should have been and what was.  On the title page along the bottom are the five peaks of a striped circus tent with flags waving.

Rendered in acrylic paints each image elevates the text by taking readers into the moment.  The time of day and setting are depicted in appropriate colors with added details of flora and fauna and people.  Bistra alternates the size of the pictures from single and double pages, page edge to page edge, to accentuate the pacing.

Her perspectives are particularly superb.  She brings us close to Precious and Baba when they are experiencing joy.  When they suffer we are given a larger scene; training in the snow, the spectacle of the first circus act, and Precious in the zoo.  The bird's-eye-view of the sanctuary is wonderful.

One of my favorite of many images is the first two-page picture.  The sky is a blend of clouds, pale yellow and green with a sun shining over several mountain peaks.  In front of this is the green of the forest with some trees towering over the others.  Birds glide above the trees.  Along the forest edge the herd forages.  In a mud patch, on the left, close to readers, Baba and Precious are playing.  One of them is rolling in the mud.  The other has her front feet on the other's back.  Their trunks are raised.  Their mouths are open.  They are happy.  To balance the scene in the lower right-hand corner several leaves provide cover for one of the birds on the ground. 

Elephants Walk Together written by Cheryl Lawton Malone with pictures by Bistra Masseva is one of those books which serve to highlight the true beauty found in the animal kingdom.  In an author's note at the close of the title we are told about the story of the real Asian elephants.  Cheryl continues by speaking about elephants in general and reminding us how much they need our help.  She includes relevant organizations with their websites and selected sources.  You will want to have this book on your professional and personal bookshelves.  It would pair nicely with Katherine Roy's new title, How To Be An Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild.

If you follow the links attached to Cheryl Lawton Malone's name and Bistra Masseva's name you will discover more about them and their other work at their websites.  At the publisher's website is a Q & A with Cheryl Lawton Malone about this book.   Also at the publisher's website you can view interior pages.


  1. Margie - your review made ME cry! Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Thank you for helping to spread the word about elephants and is happening to them and other animals - both in the wild and captivity. But most of all, thank you for all you do and for being you. The world of children's literature is better because you're here. ❤️

    1. Oh, Cheryl...I can't read this story without tears. To think of these giants and how their lives are turned upside down by humans breaks my heart. I am so glad these two found each other again. Thank you, Cheryl, thank you. It's titles like this one and Dario that make our lives richer and more aware of the animals sharing this planet with us.