Tony and His Elephants by Cathleen Burnham

Earth Day, April 22, 2017

Tony and His Elephants: Best Friends Forever!

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Nonfiction, Apr. 22, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Elephant Rescue, Sanctuary, Thailand, Environmental Conservation, Science, Nature, Kids Making a Difference

Opening: It was Songkran, Thailand’s New Year celebration. Crowds of cheering people waved flags. Songkran also was the hottest time of the year. All across Thailand, people celebrated with water fights. In the midst of the festivities were two little elephants: Baby Pumpuii and five-year-old Nam Cho. They were chained side by side.

Synopsis: Tony is an eight-year-old boy, whose family runs a small elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand. He becomes involved in the care of two young elephants, Baby Pumpuii and Nam Cho, rescued from an urban setting to a new life in the forests. But life in the wilds is not without its own drama and danger. Tony is quickly drawn into a deep and lasting relationship with these amazing and sensitive animals.

Why I like this book:

  • This is the third photodocumentary book by Cathleen Burnham featuring children involved in wild animal rescue activities. Her stories carry an inspiring and powerful message that you don’t have to be an adult to make a difference. Children like Tony are proof of how one small act of caring can have an important impact in helping wildlife in danger. It has become Burnham’s mission to share the stories of young environmental activists with other children.
  • Burnham’s book is a compassionate and well-crafted story. Her beautiful photographs document Tony’s life and work at the family elephant conservation center in northern Thailand. Tony mixes powdered elephant milk into a huge baby bottle and teaches Baby Pumpuii how to drink. He sleeps in a loft above the new elephants so that he can feed the baby four times a night. He climbs onto Nam Cho’s back and trains her in how to move forward, stop, and turn as he guides her along a dirt path into the jungle. They go for a swim in Mekong River. When a fire breaks out, Tony leads all the elephants to safety in the cool mountaintops, while his parents battle the fire.
  • Burnham’s book helps children understand and respect the interconnection between humans and all life. She introduces children to “cultural learning, language, animal facts, geography, and laws  intended to protect wild animals from black market trade or from being abused to serve human interests.” Like Tony, children worldwide will be inspired to do their part to make a difference in their communities.

Tony feeds Baby Pumpuii a bottle of milk.   Photo Courtesy of Cathleen Burnham

Favorite Lines: “These will be your elephants, Tony,” said his father. “Forever?” asked Tony. “Until the day you die, Tony, just like any mahout,” said his father.

It was the beginning of a lifelong bond. Tony, Nam Cho, and Baby Pumpuii would love and protect one another for the rest of their lives.

Resources:  Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of Tony and His Elephants. To learn more about the amazing things children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. Check out The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, to learn about the retired circus elephants living in this safe 2,700-acre refuge in companionship with other elephants. For more ideas about how you can make a difference in your community, visit the Earth Day website.

*View Joanna Marple’s inspiring review of Tony and His Elephants on her  website.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and wildlife photographer. In addition to Tony and His Elephants, Burnham is the author of Doyli to the Rescue, and the Tortuga Squad. They are the first three books in a series of six books that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers share a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

**I was provided with a copy of Tony and His Elephants in exchange for a fair and honest review.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

51 thoughts on “Tony and His Elephants by Cathleen Burnham

    • Thanks, ptnozell. Yes, that’s my hope, too, that other kids will read these books, see WAKA kids making a small but significant difference in their own back yards and then tap into their natural enthusiasm for animals to do the same.


  1. Oh my goodness, Patricia. I’m blown away. This is so beautifully written, it sounds silly, but it made me want to read my own book. You’re a beautiful writer and I’m lucky to have you review this. Very touched!! I hope it will draw people and schools in to want to read Tony and the other kids’ stories. My hope is our own kids will be excited into enthusiastically helping their own local wildlife.

    I’m in Vancouver until Saturday with a like-minded group of people, the Children & Nature Network. I spend so much time working alone in remote areas or in suburbia that I don’t meet many people who share my passion, and it’s been wonderful to be surrounded by them and to learn their ideas for bringing kids into nature. They’re not much interested in the animal side of things but it’s been great to learn how to get kids in touch with the plants, rocks, dirt and waterways around them. One of the conference sponsors, Barb Lawson, from the Lawson Foundation (also a former children’s book agency owner coincidentally) liked the books very much and encouraged me to try to get them into the Canadian public library system. Wouldn’t that be lovely!!

    Thank you again for this beautiful review that helps me spread the word. Protecting wildlife really is a mission for me and I am deeply grateful to you for helping me get my work in front of a large audience.


    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathleen,
      What a lovely surprise! Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment about my review! I love to share your empowering and inspiring stories about kids protecting wildlife. As I was writing my review of Tony and His Elephants, I was wondering “where in the world is Cathleen Burnham.” Vancouver. I hope you are having a good time meeting people who share your passion for animal rescue and conservation. That would be great to get your books into the Canadian public library system. I hope some of my Canadian readers will request their library’s to purchase your books. I know my local libraries carry all your books. Have a great time!


      • Haha!! Such a surprise to see my email right on the website. You are always helping out writers, Patricia. Yes, if any of your Canadian readers think the books might be a nice addition to their library collection I would certainly be thrilled to be included.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You will really enjoy this book by Cathleen Burnham. She has two other books I mentioned that are excellent, and three more ready for publication. You might see if your library carries Doyli to the Rescue or the Tortuga Squad. I LOVE sharing books about ordinary kids making a difference in their communities. I have found my library is likes my suggestions.


  2. Such a powerful and moving line – “These will be your elephants until the day you die.” What an amazing and powerful gift this boy was given. I have such a soft spot for animal rescue stories and, as I haven’t read this one yet, I am anxiously hoping my library has a copy or can bring one in from another library. Many thanks for sharing this beautiful book.


  3. It is so wonderful to see books depicting children making a difference. This one sounds fascinating. I love elephants, as many do. To think Tony has these amazing friends for life!


    • It’s an interesting question. The average life span is between 50-70 years, depending upon whether it is in captivity or living in the wild. Both habitats present dangers. And like humans they also have health issues. Some may live 20 years. A female doesn’t reach maturity until about age 18 years. In this story Nam Cho is five years old and still considered a baby. But, from what I’ve read over the years, Asian elephants seem to live longer. Did you know that elephants communicate over very long distances by pounding their sensitive feet on the ground. That way they signal to others the location of water, food and possible danger. It’s almost like they have a special radar/energy/vibration in their feet.


  4. Oh my gosh, this sounds almost as wonderful as your review XD. I’ve never heard of a photodocumentary before, but it’s an amazing idea! Cultural learning is so important and fun for kids too learn. Thanks for the review!


  5. This sounds great! I love how it shows kids making a difference and appreciating all of the living things in the world. I’m not really into nonfiction, but I’d pick this one up thanks to your review. Happy MMGM!


    • I love books that highlight kids who make a difference. This one is especially inspiring, as are all Cathleen Burnham’s books. She has featured a girl saving monkeys in the Amazon and kids rescuing sea turtles in Costa Rica. She has three more books coming out!


      • Yes, that’s true, Pat, I do have three more. One is about twin sons of a Serengeti game ranger who save cheetah cubs. Another is about traditional Masai boys helping scientists track African painted wolves, and the third is about a young girl living in Central America helping endangered titi monkeys’ numbers climb in her small, mountain town.


    • Hi, Violet Tiger, I love that theme, too, appreciating living creatures from the tiniest to the enormous! The books are fiction-based-on-fact which means they are mostly true with some dramatic turns inserted to highlight ecological crises happening in the books’ setting. All of the children are real and their work is real. They are real kids saving real wildlife.


  6. What a great idea for a book. Thailand is full of wondrous sites and engaging attractions. I’ve known people who have visited (including elephant sanctuaries) and they always rave about the experience. This book will inspire readers to make a difference in their own community.


    • I’m delighted you liked this book and have friends who’ve visited an elephant sanctuary. Cathleen Burnham’s first three books about kids making a difference are exceptional. I nominated one for the Cybils last year and it was a finalist. She has three more scheduled for release. These are my favorite books to share.


  7. Visiting an elephant sanctuary near Kuala Lumpur was/is one of the highlights of my life! – I already have Doyli to the Rescue and so know this will be a wonderful book – thank you for highlighting it as I didn’t know it had just come out and my antennae are always out for new elephant books…


    • Oh, what a wonderful experience. I would love to visit an elephant sanctuary. A friend went with a group of women to a special elephant sanctuary in Africa. The elephants were physically and emotionally damaged. They sang to the elephants and gradually over a two-week period the elephants began to approach the women. Each one bonded with an elephant. It was such a healing experience for the elephants. The group has gone back several times.


      • Patricia, that sounds like a wonderful book in itself! Beautiful!!! I just love hearing about these people who take the time to extend love to another suffering creature. I think there are MANY more good people like that than those that abuse animals, thankfully.


      • Whereabouts was that, Patricia? Do they have a website? I love the use of music therapy! We went on an elephant safari at Victoria Falls two years ago and those elephants had all been orphaned due to poaching, and there was a strong bond between them and the men who worked with them. The elephants all had very individual traits and we had a lot of fun.


      • I’ll have to ask my friend. The group made several visits. What an interesting and exciting safari experience you had. Would love to do something like that!


    • Marjorie, I count the elephant sanctuary where Nam Cho and Pumpuii lived as one of the highlights of my life, also (great way to put that!). Walking beside those calm, majestic giants gave me a feeling like none I’ve ever had and I feel lucky I can close my eyes, get quiet and recall the experience. I’d walk through the forest every day with them. I didn’t really want to ride because I felt like, on top of them, I only got to see their knobbly heads whereas walking beside them I could take in their whole fine selves! Anyway, I just loved the experience, too.


      • I can believe it – it must have been so special to spend time with both the elephants and the very special people who look after them – and as discussed with Gayle below, the impact on children reading about children getting involved is so important (and it’s kind of humbling for us adults…). I’ve never walked alongside elephants – that must be amazing…I did love getting my hands covered in slobber while feeding them! 🙂


  8. I really like books that show kids that they can have an impact on the world now, that they need not wait until they are adults to make an important difference.


    • I feel the same way! And, believe me, when writing these books I was surprised over and over again what a difference so many kids in the world made. For each book I’ve written, there were three more kids I’d met doing similar work. I chose these children because I felt certain (as far as I was able to glean over time spent with them) that they each had a loving family and all got to go to school full time — no child labor. These children had really harnessed their natural energy and enthusiasm for something good.


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