One day, I realized that our son (about two years old) had emotional depth. That was the day I read this story to him.
The interesting thing about babies/toddlers is that they display their emotions on their sleeves. And I may be demonstrating my lack of sophistication, but it seems to me that for the most part the emotions of an otherwise well-cared for baby are fairly straightforward:
- Fear (crying);
- Pain (crying);
- Hanger (crying);
- Anger (crying);
- Happiness (smiling or laughing);
- Contentment (smiling or laughing);
- Surprise (crying);
- Pleasure (smiling or laughing).
Not on this list are things I think of as complex emotions.
All this to say that I am clearly very naïve about the emotional depth of toddlers, because this story brought out a bunch of hitherto unobserved emotions in our little guy. Thank goodness, this story has a happy ending, otherwise I would have had a weepy toddler on my hands with insufficient emotional development to deal with his anxiety, worry, suspense, and intense relief.
This beautiful (and beautifully illustrated) story is about an elephant (Little One) and his mother, who are waiting on the plains for the rains to come. When they don’t come, mother must leave on a mysterious journey to bring the rains – and Little One must stay behind. Little One is worried – how will he communicate with his mother? When will he see her again? She reassures him that she will be with him – in the sun and the moon and the song of the wind.
Then she leaves. (This is the point where internal toddler worry began).
At first, Little One is comforted by the sun, the moon, and the song on the wind. But she then mother still does not return. The clouds cover the sun and the moon, and Little One is unable to hear his mother’s song. (This is the point where worry developed into panic and toddler eyes became red).
Little One remembers, though, that his mother said to meet her at the moon. He starts walking and sings/calls to his mother.
Far in the distance, her shadow appears on the plain below the full moon. (This is the point where our toddler screamed out, “THERE IS MOMMY!!” in utter relief.)
Sure enough, mother elephant comes to embrace Little One. Hugs are had all around, and most especially in my lap. Everything is as it should be – until the story is read the next time and we all re-board the emotional roller coaster.
This emotionally tense book was a surprise hit – we thought the story would be too sleepy and the concepts beyond our kid. But he got it – parental abandonment followed by reunification. And honestly? It was exhausting (and kind of hurtful) for me t0 watch our little guy get so wrapped up in the story, so upset, and then so relieved at the end. But he kept choosing the story, and I kept reading it – I figure that imaginary emotions are good practice for real-life emotions, all of which I hope he feels one day.
And, of course, there is my relief at knowing our own Little One cares about others – even if those others are imaginary elephants in his library book.
As for the illustrations, Gianna Marino is a painter in the fine arts as well as an author and illustrator. Her work is beautiful and can be seen here. Each two-page spread is an evocative painting of Little One in what seems to be a correctly rendered landscape (elephants live in a variety of habitats – I’ve only seen them in forests and zoos so have no idea if the plains painted by Ms. Marino are accurate). The colours are vivid. More importantly, the illustrations bring life to the story. I don’t think I ever was a believer in the “young kids require simple illustrations” school of thought, and it is really nice to have children’s books with more complex pictures (see also i live in music, for a book “illustrated” using fine art).
Last word? A lovely and loving book, evocative for a two-year-old, slightly stressful for me.
Rating: A solid B. Definitely gifting-worthy. Not a “must have”, but would add to any child’s library. I wouldn’t reread it as an adult because I can’t bear suspense – but I am an emotional wimp and get emotionally wimpier every day.
Reading Ages: 2-4, but I think 4 is the ceiling. The words are not complex and neither is the story. A four-year-old could be learning to read the book to themselves and would definitely enjoy the pictures. I think it’s too simple to gift to a five-year-old, but I think that a five-year-old who had grown up with this book would likely re-read it.
Cutest word learned by our little guy: Baobab. He spent some time afterwards trying to convince us that there were baobab trees in our neighbourhood (there aren’t).
Heartbreaking moment: When our little guy sat there, staring intently at the book with his teary eyes and open mouth, bated breath, waiting anxiously to see if mother would come back on the next page.
How exactly does mother elephant’s absence cause the rains to come? Goodness knows. I should think the rains would come even if she didn’t abandon her child for the better part of the dry season.