Singing with Elephants by Margarita Engle

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Singing with Elephants

Margarita Engle, Author

Viking Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, May 31, 2022

Pages: 224

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Animals, Elephants, Nature preserve, Rescue, Gabriela Mistral, Poet, Intergenerational relationships, Cuban, Belonging, Friendship, Novel in verse, Multicultural

Publisher’s Synopsis:

A powerful novel in verse from Newbery and Pura Belpré Award-winning author Margarita Engle about the friendship between a young girl and the poet Gabriela Mistral that leads to healing and hope for both of them.

Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she struggles to belong. But most of the time that’s okay, because she enjoys helping her parents care for the many injured animals at their veterinary clinic.

Then Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature moves to town, and aspiring writer Oriol finds herself opening up. And when she discovers that someone is threatening the life of a baby elephant at her parents’ clinic, Oriol is determined to take action. As she begins to create a world of words for herself, Oriol learns it will take courage and strength to do what she thinks is right—even if it means keeping secrets from those she loves.

A beautifully written, lyrically told story about the power of friendship—between generations, between humans and animals—and the potential of poetry to inspire action, justice, and acceptance.

Why I like Singing with Elephants

Margarita Engle’s compelling free-verse novel is about learning a new culture, loneliness, a love of animals and the power of friendships. Her narrative is spare in details, yet she paints big pictures with her words and evokes rich visual images. It is truly a novel written straight from the author’s  heart.

Oriol is a memorable, likable, determined and courageous character with a strong voice. She lives in Santa Barbara with her parents, who are veteranarians, and an older sister. Oriol misses Cuba and her beloved Abuelita, who recently passes. English is hard to write, speak and understand. Therefore, she stands out and is bullied at school, when her greatest wish is to belong and be accepted among her peers. Oriol turns to her poetry and the animals who seem to understand her. Especially Chandra, a pregnant elephant that lives at a wildlife-zoo and is under the care of her parents. However there is a mystery Oriol must solve. A bond forms between Oriol and Chandra and they dance together in their own way. An Oriol poem:

OUT LOUD

Hand in trunk with the elephant / I recite poems, and together / we sway as if dancing, / not mourning. 

Elephants seem to understand / the part of poetry that has no words / just music that echoes / like wind chimes/ or bells.  

I love intergenerational relationships. This story hit a sweet spot for me when Oriol meets an older woman from Chile who begins teaching her how poetry can help her express and understand her emotions. Oriol finds her gentle guidance salve for her soul. She soon finds herslef writing her words in English, in Spanish, and sometimes in both languages at one time. Oriol is not immediately aware she is being tutored by Gabriela Mistral,who is a poet, writer, educator, peace diplomat, and. the only Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Engle’s fascinating Cuban-based novel is inspired by the late Gabriela Mistral, who is the only real character in the book, She did live in Santa Barbera around 1947. Make sure you check out the Author’s Note at the end and and exerpt from Gabriela’s Poetry for Children that inspires singing and dancing. This novel would also be a wonderful read for reluctant readers.

Margarita Engle is the Cuban American author of many books, including the verse novels Your Heart, My Sky; Rima’s Rebellion: Newbery Honor winner The Surrender Trees; and Forst World. Her verse memoirs includ Soaring Earth and Enchanted Air, the latter of which received the Pura Belpré Award and a Walter Dean Myers Honor, and was a finalist from YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among other honors. Her picture books include Drum Dream Girl, Hancing Hands, and The Flying Girls. Visit her at MargaritaEngle.com.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonterful reviews by KitLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

 

The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The Elephant in the Room

Holly Goldberg Sloan

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Immigration, Turkish Americans. Separation, Elephants, Rescue, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s been almost a year since Sila’s mother traveled halfway around the world to Turkey, hoping to secure the immigration paperwork that would allow her to return to her family in the United States.

The long separation is almost impossible for Sila to withstand. But things change when Sila accompanies her father (who is a mechanic) outside their Oregon town to fix a truck. There, behind an enormous stone wall, she meets a grandfatherly man, Gio Gardino, who only months before won the state lottery. Their new alliance leads to the rescue of a circus elephant named Veda, and then to a friendship with an unusual boy named Mateo, proving that comfort and hope come in the most unlikely of places.

A moving story of family separation and the importance of the connection between animals and humans, this novel has the enormous heart and uplifting humor that readers have come to expect from the beloved author of Counting by 7s.

What I like about this book:

Holly Goldberg Sloan hit a sweet spot with her novel, The Elephant in the Room. It is such an uplifting story because it is charming and sad, unique and creative. But most of all the story it is filled with heart and it will put a smile on readers’ faces. Her storytelling is captivating. 

The characters are realistic. Sila Tekin really struggles without her mother. She’s quiet in the classroom, her studies are falling behind and she eats lunch alone. The school notices and pairs her with another bilingual student, Mateo Lopez, who is on the autism spectrum. It’s an awkward pairing at first, but I love that Sila accepts Mateo without judgement. Their friendship is sealed when Sila invites Mateo to visit the Veda, the elephant Gio Gardino rescues. Sila and Mateo’s  world revolves around caring for the elephant. And it is always heartwarming to see the bond that forms between animals and humans. They become a family.  

Sloan deals with some major topics — deportation, separation, animal cruelty and autism — which add a lot of depth to the story. Readers will learn a lot about the rescue and care for circus elephants. A lot happens in the story and the viewpoint changes frequently among the different characters, which is told in third person. I really enjoyed Veda’s voice in some of the chapters. The ending is very satisfying.   

Holly Goldberg Sloan spent part of her childhood living in Istanbul, Turkey. After graduating from Wellesley College, she working in commercial production in Los Angeles and in her twenties began writing family feature films, including Angels in the Outfield and Made in America. She was the first woman to direct a live action film for the Walt Disney Company when she directed (and wrote) The Big Green. She is the author of six novels, including the E. B. White Read-Aloud Honor book Counting by 7s, the New York Times best seller Short, and the highly praised To Night Owl from Dogfish. She is the mother of two sons and lives with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit Holly at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Elephant’s New Shoe by Laurel Neme

The Elephant’s New Shoe: A True Rescue Story

Laurel Neme, Author

Ariel Landy, Illustrator

Orchard Books, Nonfiction, Oct. 6, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-7 years

Themes: Elephant, Animals, Injury, Rescue center, Prosthetics, Cambodia

Opening: “Animal rescuer Nick Marx peered at the injured elephant. He and Dr. Thy had been called by a patrol team to inspect a tiny male elephant found wandering alone. His name was Chhouk.”

Sysnopsis:

When Chhouk, an Asian elephant calf, was found he was alone, underweight and had a severe foot injury. Conservationist Nick Marx at the Wildlife Alliance rescued the baby elephant. With help from the Cambodian Forestry Administration, the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics, and an elephant named Lucky, Nick nursed Chhouk back to health and worked with a team to make him an artificial foot.

Will Chhouk’s new show allow the young elephant to walk again?

Why I like this book:

Laurel Neme’s true rescue of a young elephant will melt the hearts of young children and adult animal lovers alike.  It is a perfect way to introduce children to wildlife that are injured and traumatized, and the loving rescue teams that commit themselves to providing expert care.

Neme’s book is a compassionate and well-crafted story about the relationship between Nick and Chhouk. From the moment Nick discovers the frightened and hurt baby elephant he calms him with his soothing voice, sleeps with him through the night, feeds him bananas and slowly gains his trust. From that point forward, Chhouk and Nick become best friends and with the help of his team, they are able to bring the baby to the rescue center to care for his missing and infected foot. Once the stub heals, Nick works with the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics to make a prosthetic foot or boot for Chhouk. Through trial and error, the team finally designs a flexible, padded, durable boot that works.  As Chhouk grows, he requires a new boot every six months. The school remains his “fairy godmother.”

Children will enjoy learning that elephants have feelings like people do. Chhouk misses his mother and family, who are the center of his world. “He has no elephant love.” Fortunately an eight-year-old elephant named, Lucky, nestles Chhouk under her belly. Once Chhouk has his new boot he’s able to go on walks with Lucky, explore the forest and become part of the elephant community. Today Chhouk is a teenager and remains at the rescue center.

Ariel Landy’s warm and emotive illustrations beautifully document Chhouk’s journey.  At times they are playful and show Chhouk’s joy when he’s able to walk. And they capture the loving bond between Nick and Chhouk.

Video of Chhouk and Nick Marx, Wildlife Alliance

Resources: Make sure you check out the facts included in the book about Asian and African elephants, the number of muscles in their trunks, their form of communication, and how much they eat. There is also an Author’s Note at the very end about Chhouk today along with photographs of his progress. Visit elephants at a local zoo. Check to see if there are any refuge centers near you that help injured animals. Learn more about the Wildlife Alliance website and their efforts to save elephants, tigers, gibbons, and other animals in Cambodia. For children over 8, there is a book I reviewed recently, Bionic Beasts by Jolene Gutiérrez, about a variety of animals and birds receiving artificial flippers, legs and beaks.

Laurel Neme always dreamed of helping animals. At first, she wanted to be a veterinarian like Dr. Doolittle or a scientist like Jane Goodall, but later chose to help animals in her own way — by telling their stories. She lives in Vermont with her husband, son, and super-smart German shepherd, who is learning to do the laundry. Learn more about Neme by visit her website.

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

#Reviewed from a library book.