Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Land Mammal Magnificance

When a planet is in peril, so are its inhabitants.  Humans and other living plants and animals have been and are facing challenges never experienced in previous generations. Even with their marvelous methods of adapting to survive, humans' companions, plants and animals, need us to make choices in their favor every single day.

A little more than two years ago the Great Elephant Census was completed and released.  It indicated the population of African elephants except for forest elephants, which are too difficult to count from the air, has diminished 30% in seven years.  According to a National Geographic post regarding the census about 27,000 elephants are killed every year, mainly from poaching. (If you want to make a comparison, look up the population of your community.  My community would be entirely eliminated five times in one year.)  It is believed the numbers for the Asian elephant population are even worse.

Author illustrator Jenni Desmond awakened and enhanced our awareness in her titles The Blue Whale and The Polar BearIn her newest title, The Elephant (Enchanted Lion Books, September 25, 2018) she again draws our attention to one of the largest animals on planet Earth.  Unless we are residents of those places where elephants reside in Africa and Asia, we will never see them in their natural habitat.  Jenni Desmond brings us to where they roam through her informative words and striking illustrations.

Once upon a time, a child took a book from the shelf and started to read.

The book he is reading is the one we are holding in our hands.  Already he knows they are the largest land mammals with extraordinary intelligence and remarkable memories.  Their minds allow them to find food and in the same spots from year to year.

African elephants and Asian elephants have similarities and differences.  Did you know their ears are shaped like the continents upon which they reside?  The trunks on African elephants are two-fingered as opposed to the single-fingered trunks on Asian elephants.  The tusks on African elephants grow and grow; the longer the tusks, the older the elephants.  Not all Asian elephants have tusks.

It's astounding to realize why a walking elephant appears to glide.  The bone structure causes them to walk on their toes.  Elephants' ears contribute to their exceptional hearing and work as cooling agents.  Their immense trunks not only complete monumental tasks but can pick up a tiny piece of fruit.

Elephants have a matriarchal society.  Males either lead a solitary life or live with other males.  Mother elephants are pregnant for twenty-two months.  For up to five years, a baby elephant will stick to its mother like proverbial glue.

Along with their massive size, elephants have a massive appetite which in turn generates huge piles of dung (300 pounds) per day.  They are known to travel great distances to find an abundance of water.  It quenches their thirst, keeps them cool and is a perfect place to play.

Elephants are a "keystone species," which means that their existence is uniquely important to other plants and animals. 

Elephants' treatment of those elephants who have died is reverent.  Their sleeping practices are unbelievable.  They deserve our respect and protection. . . now and always.

Jenni Desmond calls to readers with her first sentence.  We listen and lean in to hear the story she tells.  We follow the boy reading the book, along with us, as he steps into the world of elephants.  Facts are flawlessly integrated into the narrative.

We move from generalities to place of residence, physical characteristics and comparisons and lifestyle.  Jenni Desmond builds layer upon layer of information supplying us with a complete vision of these fascinating beings.  Here are two passages.

An African savanna elephant male, or bull, can reach 13 feet tall
and 24 feet long, and can weigh up to seven tons.  That's about the
weight of four large cars.  The females, or cows, are half that size.

Even baby elephants are big.  At birth, an African savanna elephant
calf can be 260 pounds, the weight of a speedy motor scooter.

The stunning enormity and beauty of the African savanna elephant is depicted with such clarity on the opened and matching dust jacket and book case, readers will find it hard not to gasp.  The stark landscape is pure perfection for displaying this elephant and his child companion, our guide in the reading of this book.  The setting continues over the spine to the left.  On the back elephant footprints lead from the edge of the gray (nearly centered) increasing in size until they move off the image in the lower, left-hand corner.

On the opening and closing endpapers very pale sky meets a very pale earth running along the lower fifth of the pages.  A tiny line of elephants ranging in age and size move along the right side on the front and along the left side on the back; as if they are constantly moving.  They also change positions on the closing endpapers apart from the matriarch, who always leads.

On the title page under the text the boy is marching and carrying a red teapot, cups, the book and his four stuffed-animal pals, an elephant, a polar bear, a whale and a tiger.  A single cup lays on the floor behind him.  With a page turn, he is cozily reading on a rug patterned in elephants.  His toys are seated on a small nearby bench with cups and treats in front of each of them.  The polar bear and whale have on hats.  The elephant has on glasses and the tiger is wearing a necklace.  To the left a fire burns in a fireplace shaped like an elephant's foot.  Readers will enjoy looking at the titles on the books on the shelf.  And what's that waving in the window?  Is it two elephant trunks?  This first illustration is one of my many favorite pictures.

With each succeeding page turn we step farther into the realm of elephants, viewing vast scenes dominated by their presence.  Maps indicate where they live.  Diagrams point out their physical traits. 

In the comparison with their height and weight four cars are stacked in front of a full-grown elephant.  The occupants of all four of them are a combination of animals and humans.  The boy rides his scooter into the next scene.  He tiptoes home into the kitchen to get a snack.  Photographs on the wall showcased by his flashlight explain the text.  The final photograph appears on the next page.

Jenni Desmond has a gift of connecting each illustration to the next.  Rendered in watercolor, acrylic, pencil, crayons and drypoint these visuals complement and extend the text bringing us close to a scene and then asking us to step back to get a larger picture or the reverse.  We are completely engaged and captivated.

When she closes with a nighttime illustration, the boy is hugging the trunk of one of the elephants.  In the distance a light is on in his home, which is above ground and shaped like an elephant.  In the final scene she zooms in and we sigh at the sight, like the darkness surrounding the savanna.

Recipient of four starred reviews and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2018 The Elephant written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond is a superb work of narrative nonfiction.  Pair this with Katherine Roy's How To Be An Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild and you will have two quintessential titles on these amazing creatures.  I highly recommend this book for both your personal and professional book collections.

To discover more about Jenni Desmond and her work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Jenni has a blog here.  She has accounts on Twitter and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations. 

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. I loved The Polar Bear, am sure this will be equally fascinating and also alarming as the earth's animals are increasingly at risk. Thanks, Margie!

    1. I know you will love this one, Linda. I have all three of her books in my personal library. I am very afraid for the creatures on this planet. You're welcome.