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The Elephant's Child

The Elephant's Child - Rudyard Kipling The illustrations (done by Lorinda Bryan Cauley) in this edition of Rudyard Kipling's The Elephant's Child are just beautiful! The pages alternate between color illustrations and black and white ones, but all of them are fantastic, and really enhance Kipling's story.

I have mixed feelings about the story itself. On one hand, it's a great fable, Kipling's writing is beautiful and poetic, and he has a lot of fun with words. It's masterfully written, of course. But... I can't read this book to my niece and nephew yet. They are still too young to be able to take this book with a grain of salt. While I realize that this was written at a time when the predominate philosophy was "children should be seen and not heard," that is not something that I can get behind with respect to my niece and nephew. Well, they *could* use a volume control, but in no way would I ever give any suggestion to them that asking questions is a bad thing, and that's precisely what The Elephant's Child does. Questions should be asked, how else is a child supposed to learn?

In addition, all the beatings going on in this story were just crazy! Moms, dads, aunts, uncles beating the baby for asking questions; the baby using his trunk to go back and lay the smack-down on his mom, dad, aunts and uncles... Crimony! CPS and/or the ASPCA should be called in here! This is just not a story that really meshes well with what most people today think of as acceptable child-rearing practices! And seriously, if one of the adults in this story had just answered the baby elephant's question instead of smacking him, this whole mess could have been avoided!

So, beautiful illustrations, beautiful writing, good fable, uncomfortable story. It might be good for a unit on fables for *older* kids, but when reading this book I don't think it would hurt for teachers or parents to talk with kids about how beliefs and standards have changed.


Well, after much begging and pleading, my niece convinced me to please read this book to them. The kids really liked it, and while they did notice some of the things I mentioned above, it didn't bother them to the extent that it bothered me. My four year old nephew even sat through this long, wordy, story, and he understood and enjoyed it. This story really made the kids feel empowered, which is often a good thing. But in this case, well... They maybe got just a little bit too much of a good thing. My sister told me that this evening she told her son "no" about something, and he responded, "why not?" She told him that it was because she was the grown up, and she didn't think it was a good idea. Alas, my nephew's response was, "Well, *maybe* the grown ups should be quiet, and the kids should be in charge." After telling her that we read this story she said, "Ah. That explains it." Um.... Yeah....

There is a lot going on in this story. I don't shy away from my previous feeling that it can probably be read to kids, but it's probably best to preview it first. Adults should be aware of all the layers to this story, and know that kids may come away from this tale with ideas that were perhaps unintended. It is an even more complex story than I first realized, and adult involvement in helping the child to process this story is, I think, pretty important. Sadly, it seems that I slipped up on that with this book. Darn it!