animals, book list, humor, social-emotional

Book List: Elephants!

This list is dedicated to my lovely wife, Ariana, who loves elephants.

A Parade of Elephants (Greenwillow Books)
Written & Illustrated by Kevin Henkes

For ages: 2-5
This is a perfect read for your preschooler. It uses its elephants to practice counting to five, colors, and position. The elephants are counted out (“Look! / Elephants! // One, / two, / three, / four, / five.” ) with a simple chart that shows their line growing one at a time. The parade goes up and down hills, through a tunnel, under the canopy of trees in the jungle, and many other places. At the end is a magical surprise, as the elephants blow stars into the sky from their trunks before settling down to sleep for the night. The illustrations here are simple & easy for a very young child to understand. I can easily see this becoming a child’s favorite bedtime read and a great way to practice those starting skills.

When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles (Little Simon)
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

For ages: 2-5
A little girl must help her pet elephant with his sniffles. First, she puts the pachyderm to bed and cleans up all the dust in case he’s allergic. Next, she brings him a toy and then goes about her business. However, the elephant gets bored quickly, and it becomes her full-time job to ensure he’s resting. This is part of the When Your series, where children are put in the parents’ position working with an animal that won’t cooperate. The book intends to help children develop empathy and understanding of why their parents ask them to do certain things, especially related to health & hygiene. It’s a great mix of humor and compassion that I think all kids will enjoy reading.

Elmer  (HarperCollins)
Written & Illustrated by David McKee

For ages: 4-8
Elmer is a patchwork elephant, his skin covered in square patches of all colors. This makes him stand out from the herd, and Elmer doesn’t like that. He’s never met a patchwork elephant before and wants to look like everyone else. A mysterious fruit ends up being the “cure” for Elmer, but it doesn’t go the way he expects. This is a great story about learning to love yourself and finding a community that will love you for who you are. I think it also helps students to see different perspectives. While we may think Elmer looks fantastic at a cursory glance, that is not what is happening inside his head. It will take reassurance from the people who love Elmer to help him accept himself. 

Stand Back Said the Elephant I’m Going to Sneeze (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books)
Written by Patricia Thomas
Illustrated by Wallace Tripp

For ages: 4-8
The Elephant makes a loud proclamation to the creatures of the savannah that he’s about to sneeze. They all begin bracing for impact, knowing that an elephant sneeze can do a lot of damage. The readers will hear from the animals about what they fear will happen. The cheetahs are worried their spots will be blown off, for example. The text is told in a simple rhyming format, making it a great piece to teach rhyme and poetry to your lower elementary students. This is one of those books that makes for an excellent read-aloud for those teachers that are natural performers. You won’t just want to read; you’ll want to stand up and shout, acting out the animals’ reactions and the surprise (a mouse) that comes to help the elephant.

Poe Won’t Go (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Zachariah OHora

For ages: 4-8
A pink elephant named Poe sits in the middle of town and won’t budge. The citizens of Prickly Valley are ticked off that the one road in their village is blocked. Cars begin forming a pile-up, honking and yelling at Poe to move. He gets cited by a police officer. A marching band tries to scare him away. The mayor forms committees to investigate the problem. However, one little girl comes upon the answer: Ask him why he won’t move. This is a ridiculous book, and the elephant’s answer is the silliest part. OHora’s acrylic and pencil illustrations are a delightful addition that adds to the cartoonish nature of the situation. I love picture books that serve as vehicles for silly jokes, letting most of the text be the set-up with the last page as the punchline. That is precisely what is going on here.

Zola’s Elephant (Clarion Books)
Written by Randall de Seve
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

For ages: 4-8
Zola moves into a new house, and the narrator, the little girl living next door, is afraid to introduce herself. The narrator imagines Zola owning an elephant and having so much fun with her pet. Why would she want to be friends with the narrator? The book cuts to Zola’s perspective, and we find that she is pretty lonely, surrounded by unpacked boxes and wishing she had a friend. The narrator, on the other hand, keeps building greater & greater fantasies of Zola and her elephant’s adventures until reality brings her back to the ground. The story is very well paced with expressionist-style paintings from Pamela Zagarenski. The top-notch art here has many pages that would make beautiful framed art pieces.

Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places (Two Lions)
Written by Katie Frawley
Illustrated by Laurie Stansfield

For ages: 4-8
Tabitha, a house cat, and Fritz, a jungle elephant, meet over the website LairBnB where they agree to trade houses for a while. They have come to find their respective homes boring, and they think the other animal lives somewhere exciting. Told through emails, Tabitha & Fritz ask questions about parts of the other’s habitat they don’t quite understand. I was reminded of Amelia Bedelia and her habitual misunderstanding of simple things that were just unfamiliar to her. Eventually, these two find their new home isn’t quite as exciting as anticipated, and they begin to yearn for their old place. I loved that this story is told in a non-traditional format, a great way to model different types of writing for our students. This would make an excellent starter for students writing back and forth in pairs as characters of their invention.

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