Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Giants In Size And Heart

On our planet, there is no larger land mammal.  It is said their ears are shaped like the continent on which they reside.  With their many-muscled (tens of thousands) trunks, they can lift hundreds of pounds.  Their leader is usually the oldest female; generations of knowledge passed from elder to elder in herds together for lifetimes.  Their ability to communicate with miles separating them is astounding.  Elephants, African elephants, are remarkable individuals.

One of their single greatest foes is humans.  One of their fiercest protectors is other humans.  The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship (Chronicle Books, May 18, 2021) written by Kim Tomsic with illustrations by Hadley Hooper is a tale of the interconnectedness of all living beings on our planet.  It spotlights remembered kindness and deep affection.

This is Lawrence.
He loves animals.

This is Francoise.
She loves Lawrence.

This is Max.

Together the trio live at Thula Thula.  There they have 

a farmhouse, a garden, a swimming pool, and 11,000 acres of African bush, savanna, and forest.

The fenced-in area creates a refuge to an assortment of African animals. Hunting is strictly forbidden providing a peaceful existence for the inhabitants.  Lawrence, Francoise, and Max dwell in consideration for all species residing there.

One day, a telephone call changes and challenges the way of life for Lawrence, Francoise, and Max.  A woman asks Lawrence to house seven unhappy elephants at Thula Thula.  If they cannot find sanctuary there, they will be shot.  Lawrence loves animals.  He replies in the affirmative.  A boma with fencing is fashioned for them until they get acclimated.

After their arrival by trailer to Thula Thula, some observers believe the elephants are trouble.  Lawrence believes they are nervous.  That first night, they destroy the fencing and escape.  Again, others believe they are trouble, even after they head to their new home.  Lawrence disagrees.  He promises their leader, Nana, he will stay with them day and night until they feel comfortable.  And he does.  He sings to them.  He tells them stories.  The elephants shift their sadness into happiness.

Surprisingly enough, Nana reaches through the fence one day and touches Lawrence's stomach with her trunk.  A bond is forged.  The elephants are released into the whole of Thula Thula, and Lawrence and Max go back to the farmhouse.  The seven visit the farmhouse, the garden, the swimming pool, and astonishingly enough greet Lawrence when he returns home from trips.  How do they know?

Years pass.  The rhythms at Thula Thula are wonderfully similar.  The elephants tend to now roam on the far edges of Thula Thula.  Some years they visit.  One day an overwhelming sadness descends on Francoise and Max.  Lawrence is gone forever.  The elephants know.  Their response to this knowing is an expression of great love.  

As you read the words written by Kim Tomsic, your world fades away.  You are in Africa.  You are at Thula Thula with Lawrence, Francoise, Max and the elephants.

With introductory, explanatory sentences we meet the people and animals living at Thula Thula.  This cadence established with specific words is repeated after the central portion of the story, the arrival of the elephants and their deepening relationship with Lawrence, Francoise, and Max.  This "bookending" gives readers a true sense of the elephants' acceptance of Thula Thula as their home. It also serves to widen the definition of home as not only a place but as people.  Readers are drawn more completely into the narrative by distinct details and dialogue.  Here is a passage.

Soon the elephants' cranky
behavior changes to
ear flopping, head
waggling, and trumpeting.

"What does it mean?"
Francoise asks.

"They're HAPPY," Lawrence says.

The scene on the open and matching dust jacket and book case, not only allows us to meet Lawrence and the elephants, but we are given a preview of the marvelous artwork and color palette used throughout this book.  In many of the illustrations, the hues of red and orange indicate the African habitats and climate.  On the front Lawrence is walking and chatting with Nana.  Across and left of the spine the landscape continues.  The additional six elephants are featured walking behind and along with Lawrence and Nana.

In lush shades of orange and red with details etched in black, the opening and closing endpapers present two different scenes along a river.  The trees and birds on the shore are reflected in the water like a watercolor wash.  In both sets of endpapers, another single bird appears in the water.  

These illustrations by Hadley Hooper were rendered 

using watercolor, ink, printmaking, and then finished in Photoshop.

There are dramatic double-page pictures, panoramic and bird's eye points of view, full-page images bringing us closer to the activities, horizontal panels of three on two pages, mixed panel sizes to depict things happening at the same time, and a group of three on one page to portray multiple circumstances.  Readers will pause at every page turn to enjoy all the details.  

Color choices throughout this book denote time of day and emotional moods of the story.  The dark greens and black inside the trailer with the elephants convey their curiosity and unease.  The gray, brown, black, and white used in the scene where the elephants break out of the boma fence at night is full of outrage and freedom.  More of the red and orange warmth comes into the pictures along with natural tones as the elephants decide Thula Thula is home.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is a single-page image.  It is for the words above noted.  It is a single setting but divided by what Lawrence is doing on the top half and what the elephants are doing on the bottom half.  It is night.  A crescent moon hangs in the upper right-hand corner above a tree-filled landscape.  A night bird sits on a branch on the left-side.  Under the light of a lantern, seated on a rock, Lawrence reads aloud from a book.  The elephants rest in a group, a few raise their trunks in happiness, and others snack.

As the words and artwork are given to readers, page by page, each one finds themselves entirely absorbed by this tale of wondrous creatures.  The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship written by Kim Tomsic with illustrations by Hadley Hooper will find a permanent place in your hearts.  You can pair this title with Elephants Walk Together, How To Be An Elephant, The ElephantIf Elephants Disappeared and She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch for a fantastic story time or themed unit.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Kim Tomsic and Hadley Hooper and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  There are interior images from this book at Hadley Hooper's site.  Kim Tomsic has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Hadley Hooper has accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Here is the link to the publisher's website.

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