Friday, February 6, 2009

Book Review, Elephant Mountain

Elephant Mountain Book ReviewIf we want to increase tolerance in our society, we need to give kids some way of walking a mile in someone else's shoes. Not everyone can travel overseas to visit a different culture, so it's important that books bring other cultures to kids. Elephant Mountain, a junior novel by Janeen Brian, transports us to a village in Thailand and puts us in the sandals of a boy named Kasem.

Wouldn't every child like to look after a baby elephant? Kasem is thrilled when he's given responsibility for the elephant calf he nicknames Pooky. But life isn't easy for the young Thai boy. He has to remember lots of things, reassure a traumatized baby elephant, and cope with his friend, Pravat's teasing. With a tsunami heading for the village, can Kasem keep his promise to always look after Pooky?

Illustrator, Sally Rippin's black and white line drawings bring the Thai village to life, and contribute to young readers' comprehension. The print is large and there's a nice amount of white space, allowing young readers to have confidence in their ability to read a whole novel. The book is one of the Aussie Bites series put out by Puffin(Penguin) in 2008, so there is a "bite" taken out of the top right corner of the cover and each page, just another cool feature that will attract kids.

I believe Janeen Brian has trodden the fine line between an informational text and an exciting, fast-paced story, to perfection. She has included a few Thai words, but made sure the reader can work them out with contextual clues. She's chosen issues for her main character that every child can relate to - love for a pet animal, desire to prove oneself worthy, and annoyance with a friend's competitiveness. Kids who like stories with all the drama of real life will enjoy Elephant Mountain, I'm sure.

This book would make a great resource in any primary classroom, or for home. Kids could write about a time in their lives when they had to look after something or someone. Can they find Thailand on Google Maps or in an Atlas? They could list the special Thai words and suggest their meanings. Young artists might use Sally Rippin's drawings as a spark for their own ideas of life in Thailand, or what Pooky looks like.

Book Chook Alert: Elephant Mountain received a Notable Award in the 2009 Children's Book Council of Australia Awards

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