Review: In The Shadow of an Elephant

First impressions count. They are (for me) seldom wrong. However, like a painting on the wall, a second, closer look can often enhance if not alter those first gut reactions. Closer inspection often reveals hitherto unseen beauties secreted among shadows laden with meaning. This is precisely why I adore picture books.

My first impression of Georgie Donaghey’s, In the Shadow of an Elephant was that it was an immense story; a picture book attempting to embrace a life story as boundless as the African Savannah, just as brutal and beautiful. Even the magnificent front cover of Lualani the elephant required a full cover wrap to encompass her complete gorgeous form.

Then I took the book home and read it quietly. I read it aloud to my teen daughter. I read it again, alone. Each reading became more and more emotional as the fullness of the story swept over me and somehow the largeness of this tale found a perfect fit within its picture book confines, and within my heart.

Lualani is an adorable baby elephant who enjoys her baby elephant life with her herd and her ever-present mumma until one terrible night when her world rips apart following a merciless poachers’ attack. Alone and bereft, she is taken in by Jabari and his Papa who coax Lualani into loving life again, teaching her ‘how to be an elephant.’
Together they grow, sing and dance and again, morn after Jabari’s papa dies. And, just as elephants are wont to do, Lualani returns Jabari’s love with patience and understanding, salving his grief and cherishing every moment of their time together; ‘dancing in each other’s shadows’ until life’s curtains draw close.

In the Shadow of an Elephant is a sweeping tale, an epic story of beginnings and endings, of love and the unrelenting qualities of the cycle of life. Donaghey’s lyrical prose is charged with emotion yet is never excessive or cloying. It tells Lualani’s life story with just the right amount of colour and sentiment. It is because we can relate to the feelings of loss and grief that each cleverly chosen word becomes so emotionally amplified, giving us a fuller sense of the depth of friendship Lualani and Jabari share.

The other notable thing of greatness this book possesses is the artwork. Sandra Svergnini’s pencil lined drawings are exquisite, pulsing with life and texture. The limited colour palette against greyscale drawings works a treat, highlighting the significant parts of each illustration without ever compromising focus. Patterned page bands simultaneously reflect these highlights and the colours of the Savannah.

There is so much heart in each of Lualani’s facial expressions that you cannot fail to feel her agonising despair, her soaring joy. This story is a true marriage of words and pictures that works to elicit compassion, empathy and thankfulness.

Despite its magnitude or perhaps because of it, In The Shadow of an Elephant is delivered with great grace and gentleness making it an obvious classroom go-to to aid discussions about animal welfare, namely the problem of poaching in Africa as well as friendship, animal human bonds and finding the light in the darkest moments of despair. If I had to offer one suggestion to enhance this book, it would be to increase its hardback format to a greater size to match the story’s undeniable presence.

Highly recommended for middle primary readers and lovers of elephants.

Title: In The Shadow of An Elephant
Author: Georgie Donaghey
Illustrator: Sandra Severgnini
Publisher: Little Pink Dog Books, $24.95
Publication Date: 1 April 2019
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9780648256311
For ages: 4 - 8
Type: Picture book

Buy the book:

Boomerang Books

Little Pink Dog Books




Comments

Karen Tyrrell said…
Thanks Dimity, Can't wait to read this. I think, I will need tissues.
Karen x
Norah Colvin said…
What an amazing review, Dimity. I'll have to look out for this book. It sounds like a special gift.
DimbutNice said…
My pleasure,Karen. Yes! Tissues recommended. :-)
DimbutNice said…
Thank you, Norah. Yes please, keep an eye out for this one. It's a bit special and worth having in the class rooms, too. :-)
Anni Gold said…
I read this beautiful book, but wasn't sure I agreed with the suggested Early Childhood placement, so I read it to our Year 5 classes and asked their opinions. Ok, I cried with them every time I read it (and no one laughed, thank goodness!). They felt that little kids would probably not understand too deeply, and thought that it would be better placed in the Picture Books for Older Readers, which meant that I could advocate for them all to start borrowing more books from that section. Pretty much a win, win as far as I'm concerned!
DimbutNice said…
A win indeed, Anni. Thank you for sharing this useful insight and classroom feedback. It's always heartening to hear how (our) picture books are being received 'in the field' as it were! Keep up your wonderful advocacy of sharing!! Dimity
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