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 Girl by Celesta Rimington

The Elephant’s Girl

Celesta Rimington, Author

Crown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 19, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Elephants, Zoo, Tornado, Ghosts, Adventure, Mystery

Opening: “The wind and I have a complicated relationship. Because of the wind, I’m the girl without a birthday, without a name, without a beginning to my story. See, the wind took my family away when I was small, and I don’t remember them or where I came from.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

An elephant never forgets, but Lexington Willow can’t remember what happened before an EF5 tornado swept her away when she was a toddler. All she knows is that it landed her near an enclosure in a Nebraska zoo; and there an elephant named Nyah protected her from the storm. With no trace of her birth family, Lex grew up at the zoo with Nyah and her elephant family; her foster father, Roger; her best friend, Fisher; and the wind whispering in her ear.

Now that she’s twelve, Lex is finally old enough to help with the elephants. But during their first training session, Nyah sends her a telepathic image of the woods outside the zoo. Despite the wind’s protests, Lex decides to investigate Nyah’s message and gets wrapped up in an adventure involving ghosts, lost treasure, and a puzzle that might be the key to finding her family. As she hunts for answers, Lex must summon the courage to leave the secure borders of her zoo to discover who she really is–and why the tornado brought her here all those years ago?

Why I like this book:

Celesta Rimington’s debut novel about Lexington’s mission to discover her true identity is full of heart, family, and friendship. Rimington’s writing is graceful and filled with vivid imagery and details. Readers will find themselves lured into Lex’s story from the first chapter.

This is a magical adventure about Lex’s unique relationship with the African elephant, Nyah, and a mysterious ghost, who both save her life on the night the tornado that sweeps through the zoo. Lex feels a connection to Nyah, who communicates with her telepathically. Nyah leads Lex to find Miss Amanda, who insists she’s a “misplaced spirit,” who has some unfinished business to attend to that involves a hidden treasure.

The characters are authentic and well developed. Lex is curious and determined to learn about her past. She loves Roger Marsh, the zoo’s train engineer, who becomes her legal guardian, when her family isn’t found. They live on the zoo grounds in his home. And for Lex, the zoo is home. When Lex starts school, kids are mean and call her “the elephant girl.” So she is home schooled by Mrs. Leigh, the zoo keeper’s wife and mother of her best friend, Fisher. Lex can always count on Fisher. Their summer involves searching for ghosts, chasing a lost treasure, mischief and danger. But because they live at the zoo, there are chores and many things to do. Readers are going to want to live at a zoo.

I was drawn to this story because of my love of elephants. And Rimington doesn’t disappoint with her extensive research into how these intelligent elephants communicate with each other over distances through the thumping of their feet. They create an “infrasonic sound” that is too low for humans to hear. In the story, Lex and the elephant trainer, Thomas, both detect the sound as a thumping in their temples. I didn’t know that elephants have 40,000 muscles in their trunks. And I am also impressed with her research into the steam locomotives and what it takes to run a zoo and care for the wildlife.

The Elephant’s Girl weaves together realistic fiction, mystery and magical realism that will create an extraordinary experience for readers. The ending is bittersweet and satisfying. Fans of Katherine Applegate, Jennifer Holmes and Kate DiCamillo will enjoy this novel. Make sure you read the “Author’s Note” at the end, where you will learn about these majestic elephants and find additional websites about elephant research and wildlife sanctuaries.

Celesta Rimington is an elephant advocate, a musical theater performer, and an active participant in her local writing community. As a teenager, she worked at a zoo in Omaha, which is part of the reason she set her story in Nebraska. She now lives in Utah with her husband and two children, where they have a miniature railroad with a rideable steam train. Visit Rimington at her website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.