Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #31)

Just to be sure we're all on the same page and no one got stuck back in the past, today is Wednesday. Honest! Glad you could make it!  :)

Small as an Elephant
Author: Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Pages: 275
Age Range: 8+
Published: 2011
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Cover Score: ****
Overall Grade: **
Rating: PG

Young Jack awakes one morning to find himself abandoned in a campsite in Acadia National Park.  His mother is manic depressive and has been known to disappear for days at a time but it’s always happened when Jack has been home, in familiar surroundings, with a routine to stick to and food to eat. He sticks around for a while hoping she’ll show up but eventually realizes he’s going to have to fend for himself. 

Slowly he makes his way down the coast heading in the general direction of Massachusetts and home. He resorts to stealing food and provisions on several occasions though he has a strong conscience and has to fight himself each time he does it. He also happens upon a few kind souls who take pity on him and mostly fall for his stories about being home schooled or his mother having a headache or whatever it takes to get people to let him go on his way.

He finally decides he has to make the journey to see Lydia, the only live elephant in Maine, before he can go home. He’s been fascinated by elephants since seeing one at a circus with his mother when he was 3 or 4. It was an argument about Lydia that was the turning point in the trip and he thinks if he can just see her she can somehow make things right again.  He does finally get to her and things do work out but not in the way he had imagined.

I’d heard some good things about this but I must say I was sorely disappointed. I felt sorry for poor little Jack and could understand why he felt like he couldn’t trust any adults but I got frustrated that his logic never took over and let him ask for help. (I realize he’s only like 10 and there’s not a lot of logic there to begin with but for some reason it just irritated me rather than making me care for Jack’s character. Or maybe I’m just in a cold-hearted mood today!)

The best parts were the bits of information and quotes about elephants that headed each chapter and the closing chapter where Lydia and Jack interact. Elephants are truly remarkable animals. I would have loved for Jack's mother to have abandoned him at the elephant enclosure and then seen the boy and beast make a journey together illustrating some of the ideas about their loyalty, compassion and ingenuity.  Here are just a few:
It is known that one elephant who was rather slow in learning his tricks and had been punished severely by his master’s beating, was discovered later that night, alone in his tent, practicing those tricks. –Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book III(pg. 206)
A forest elephant that had torn his trunk while freeing himself from a trap was in too much pain to feed himself. So he walked right up to an African savanna elephant in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve and put his trunk in the other elephant’s mouth. The African elephant understood: he immediately ripped up an acacia tree and fed it to his new acquaintance.(pg. 73)
Interesting, eh? I think the two bonding and adventuring together would have made a much more powerful (and yes, I realize far less realistic or believable) story.  Maybe I’ll write it!  But I’d love to hear from others who may have read this.  Argue with me and tell me why it’s great.

** I can’t believe it! We're down to the final 10 reviews of the summer reading extravaganza. (I decided to go with 42 in all to make it a complete 6 weeks’ worth of posts. My brain wanted things to come out a little more evenly than they did when I stopped with the 40 it would have been if I stopped when our library program ends.) Don't forget to check back to see what's in store for the finale. And look for a wrap-up post chronicling everything I read (and didn't) during my experiment.  Thanks for reading!

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