How do you stop elephants from trampling your orchard, damaging your trees, and destroying your ripe clementines every night?
Young Fatima, dark-haired, dark-eyed, and brown-skinned, lives with her bearded, turbaned grandfather in an unnamed country. They take care of their clementine orchard, which is their livelihood, with the help of the spiders that eat tree-destroying insects. But when those sweet, ripe clementines attract an elephant mama and two baby elephants, neither loud noises, buckets of water, nor thrown pistachios will distract them. How can their trees and their fruit be saved? Grandfather buys a rifle and three bullets, but can Fatima find a more peaceful solution? She encourages her spider friends to spin a thick wall of webs around the orchard, which repels the elephants. Illustrations by Grimard are gorgeous, mostly in warm hues of orange, brown, and blue, with expressive faces and hardly any specific ethnic touches. The text, dramatic and occasionally heavy-handed, is Messier’s own translation of her French text, first published in 2012. The book concludes with an adaptation of the Ethiopian proverb that says “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion,” rendering it as “When spider webs unite, they can stop elephants” and calling it simply a generic “African proverb.”
This sweet tale of ingenuity and kindness to all creatures tries, but it does not fully measure up to its potential. (Picture book. 4-7)