Now that we’re officially into May and what could be classed as ‘wedding season’, you might find that your little one has more and more questions about marriage, weddings and love, (no? just us then!). Luckily, Davide Cali and Alice Lotti’s When an Elephant Falls in Love is on hand to answer some …
“When an elephant falls in love he does many foolish things”
When and Elephant Falls in Love is a story about an elephant who is in love, and follows all of the trials and tribulations of his experience. He does many foolish things – hiding when he sees his love interest, agonising over which tie to wear, and going through many drafts of love letters he never sends. It is a tale about his journey of love, told through vibrant illustration, and well-constructed narrative.
The colour and texture of the book sleeve with its bright colours and simple lines is very inviting and sure to catch the eye of a child looking up at the bookstore’s shelves. This continues throughout the book. The illustrations and narrative really draw the reader in. The plain background and pops of colour give plenty of space for the elephant to take centre stage. The layout is effective, sometimes spanning across two pages. It will invite a young reader to scan the pages to find out what elephant is up to, what food is in his fridge, and who is perched in his post box. The book is also humourous – a very important quality for a young reader. His late night cheesecake eating, multiple ties, and top hat are sure to create a giggle.
“He takes a bath every day and even washes behind his ears”
Lotti and Cali have dotted the pages with other characters too. We see a rabbit chewing a carrot, and a bat hanging upside down. Although these characters are not brought into the narrative, it is an opportunity for the adult reader to invite the young reader to talk about these characters – do you think rabbit and elephant are friends? What is rabbit eating? Do rabbits like carrots? Why is the bat hanging upside down? This invites the young reader to visualise what other stories might come out of this one, and what happens in the animal kingdom. This in turn encourages imagination and the possibility to create their own stories.
One particularly enjoyable quirk is the appearance of a small yellow bird in each page – quirky because it is not immediately noticeable. It is likely to be something the young reader (and the adult reader too!) notices on the second read, or midway through the first read, adding variety to the reading experience.
The book encourages reading skills, with examples of how sentences are constructed. The use of inverted commas for elephant’s dialogue, punctuation, and a nice mix of simple sentences and clauses, allow the reader to become familiar with sentence structure, and keep the reading interesting.
The illustrations encourage the reader to think about differences. For example the female elephant has a bow on her tail differentiating her to the male elephant. This also creates opportunity for readers to consider what they think about this, in the story and in the larger context.
The main theme of this story is an elephant in love trying to manage the rollercoaster of emotions that this brings up for him – sadness, dreaminess, excitement, indecision. This is a good platform for children to consider their feelings, and to name them. The ending comes as something of a surprise, a turn of events sure to leave the reader with a reaction to consider, be it surprise, disappointment, or delight.
For an older reader it might also raise questions about the feelings of the female elephant which aren’t explored in this story. In this way there is something for both the young and older picture book reader. For me, the ending was a little too abrupt and although it does offer these opportunities to think about feelings, it has the potential to jar the reader out of their reverie. Thinking about the suitability for both the younger and older reader, I wondered if this is where older readers rather than younger readers might be left feeling a little deflated. However, that does not detract from the many wonderful aspects of this book.
This book invites conversation about love, and what the reader thinks about love. Although the story follows a rather classic formula about how love can make us feel – excited, sad, wondering and wishing – the hope is certainly that the reader can question this formula and that the adult reader encourages this.
We were all young elephants once, raiding the fridge for midnight cheesecake, but themes about independence, self-confidence and loving yourself are also important for young readers. I feel this book, although using one particular theme, certainly offers a platform to explore these other life themes.
- Author: Davide Cali
- Illustrator: Alice Lotti
- ISBN: 9781452147277
- Publisher: Chronicle Books
- Age range: 3-5 years