An elephant searches for a hat to make him special and a cat meets a bird missing his head feathers in these two read-aloud children’s stories.
Squirrel Hill (not the Pittsburgh neighborhood) is a farmhouse in the country. Madison, the young girl who lives there, has several walking, talking plush-toy animals. Other farmyard and wild animals also speak and behave in some human ways. In “Just an Ordinary Elephant,” Perfesser is a self-important goose who proclaims that there’s nothing special about Ellie, a stuffed elephant, because he’s unlike African elephants, who have ears that “always stick straight out….And they always wear straw hats.” Ellie overhears this and—his dignity wounded—decides he must emulate African elephants. Though Madison knows that Ellie is indeed special, being polite, kind, and generous, he’ll have to learn this for himself. In “The Bald Cardinal,” the cat Kitty certainly doesn’t lack confidence, knowing herself to be “brainy, gorgeous, and curious.” She meets a bald cardinal whose condition is a problem: “I cannot find anyone who will talk with me without staring at my head and tweeting all their friends.” But Kitty reassures him he’s very handsome, “and…when he really thought about it, a cat should know.” Though Kitty, like Ellie, performs a kind act, she decides—catlike—to keep it to herself and to never do it again. Clark (Crossing Briar Woo, 2018, etc.) follows up his first outing in this series with two tales (aimed at children ages 4 to 7) that are less focused on Madison and more on the animal denizens of Squirrel Hill. Each one has something to say about self-acceptance, but neither is overly preachy. Instead, gentle humor and good characterization make for amusing scenarios, as when Ellie, offered assistance by Esther Marie Rabbit, “did not say ‘thank you.’ He was trying very hard to be special and he forgot.” The second story is slighter, but Kitty’s zest enlivens it. Driver’s (Crossing Briar Woo, 2018, etc.) attractively detailed pencil-and-wash illustrations bring out the characters’ expressions and personalities, skillfully distinguishing between real and stuffed animals.
Enjoyably old-fashioned tales with charm, wit, and an appreciation of kindness.