In this debut middle-grade novella, a young New Yorker’s trip to South Africa takes a rousing turn once he accepts an elephant’s invitation to a wondrous pond.
Nine-year-old Krishna and his parents arrive in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Their journey from New York encompassed nearly a full day, not to mention four hours driving from the airport to the park, all for a three-day stay. But Krishna’s looking forward to seeing all the wild animals on the forthcoming safari. He’s even excited to try an outdoor shower and is shocked when an elephant steals some of his water—a talking elephant. Broken Tusk introduces himself and offers to take Krishna on a ride into the forest to visit an enchanted pond. They agree to a midnight rendezvous, but after a day of spotting zebras and giraffes and enjoying a hearty meal, a weary Krishna sleeps past the departure time for his adventure with Broken Tusk. The next day, after a morning safari, Krishna spies animals at a watering hole, including his new friend, who suggests naming some of the other animals. Once Krishna does, he’s able to hear conversations between warthogs and buffaloes. He makes sure to set his alarm that evening and, atop Broken Tusk, goes to see the pond that’s magical only at night. While Sehgal’s story hints at magic, Africa itself remains the true wonderment. Krishna, for example, despite hoping he’ll be back from the safari in time to meet Broken Tusk, is in awe while traveling alongside the country’s four-legged inhabitants. The author touches on a few serious issues: animals will feed on another one who’s died, contrasted with wasteful humans. But she reserves the bulk of her narrative to celebrate Africa, and young readers will learn about its wildlife and vegetation (for example, the centuries-old baobab tree), as well as a greeting in the Tsonga language: “Hoy hoy.” Krishna eventually reaches the mystical pond, a place of beauty and harmony—and with enough ambiguity to leave readers guessing whether what Krishna witnessed is real. The accompanying uncredited illustrations are snapshots of the best moments, like Broken Tusk’s trunk sneaking into Krishna’s shower.
A quiet but winsome African tale, in which ordinary landscapes and animals become extraordinary.