In The Shadow Of An Elephant

In The Shadow Of An Elephant review by Dimity Powell

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First impressions count. They are (for me) seldom wrong. However, like a painting on the wall, a second, closer look can often enhance if not alter those first gut reactions. Closer inspection often reveals hitherto unseen beauties secreted among shadows laden with meaning. This is precisely why I adore picture books.

My first impression of Georgie Donaghey’s, In the Shadow of an Elephant was that it was an immense story; a picture book attempting to embrace a life story as boundless as the African Savannah, just as brutal and beautiful. Even the magnificent front cover of Lualani the elephant required a full cover wrap to encompass her complete gorgeous form.

Then I took the book home and read it quietly. I read it aloud to my teen daughter. I read it again, alone. Each reading became more and more emotional as the fullness of the story swept over me and somehow the largeness of this tale found a perfect fit within its picture book confines, and within my heart.

Lualani is an adorable baby elephant who enjoys her baby elephant life with her herd and her ever-present mumma until one terrible night when her world rips apart following a merciless poachers’ attack. Alone and bereft, she is taken in by Jabari and his Papa who coax Lualani into loving life again, teaching her ‘how to be an elephant.’

Together they grow, sing and dance and again, morn after Jabari’s papa dies. And, just as elephants are wont to do, Lualani returns Jabari’s love with patience and understanding, salving his grief and cherishing every moment of their time together; ‘dancing in each other’s shadows’ until life’s curtains draw close.

In the Shadow of an Elephant is a sweeping tale, an epic story of beginnings and endings, of love and the unrelenting qualities of the cycle of life. Donaghey’s lyrical prose is charged with emotion yet is never excessive or cloying. It tells Lualani’s life story with just the right amount of colour and sentiment. It is because we can relate to the feelings of loss and grief that each cleverly chosen word becomes so emotionally amplified, giving us a fuller sense of the depth of friendship Lualani and Jabari share.

The other notable thing of greatness this book possesses is the artwork. Sandra Svergnini’s pencil lined drawings are exquisite, pulsing with life and texture. The limited colour palette against greyscale drawings works a treat, highlighting the significant parts of each illustration without ever compromising focus. Patterned page bands simultaneously reflect these highlights and the colours of the Savannah.

There is so much heart in each of Lualani’s facial expressions that you cannot fail to feel her agonising despair, her soaring joy. This story is a true marriage of words and pictures that works to elicit compassion, empathy and thankfulness.

Despite its magnitude or perhaps because of it, In The Shadow of an Elephant is delivered with great grace and gentleness making it an obvious classroom go-to to aid discussions about animal welfare, namely the problem of poaching in Africa as well as friendship, animal human bonds and finding the light in the darkest moments of despair. If I had to offer one suggestion to enhance this book, it would be to increase its hardback format to a greater size to match the story’s undeniable presence.

Highly recommended for middle primary readers and lovers of elephants.

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Dimity Powell's website: www.dimitypowell.com

 

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