THE BIRTHDAY ELEPHANT by Walter Williams

THE BIRTHDAY ELEPHANT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In Williams’ (A Monster for Tea, 2013, etc.) offbeat picture book, an adventurous young pachyderm experiences numerous delights thanks to a kindhearted boy with a talent for construction.

In this flight of fancy,  a young elephant tries to see what it’s like to sit on a chair (it breaks), ride a bicycle (it folds), sail on a boat (it sinks), and ride in a car (the axles break). When a boy speeds by on a bicycle, the elephant chases after him, and the youngster instantly grasps the animal’s dilemma: “You need someone to help you. To make things that are strong.” So he creates “durable devices that would not fold, break, or bend.” The results, including a car with tires that “would not pop,” are instant and successful. The author/illustrator’s depiction of the wide-eyed elephant in the redesigned car, with the boy looking on, is a highlight of the book. The story undergoes an abrupt tonal shift, though, after the boy and elephant ride and sail together and eventually return to their respective worlds. In the end, the nostalgic adult elephant sadly returns to the site where he and the boy first met, where readers find the “special boat” now “full of holes…a leg from the oversized chair…or perhaps part of the giant car.” Visually, Williams’ use of varied brush strokes and patterns is pleasing to the eye. However, his overall style of charcoal pencil and watercolor illustrations, as if rendered by a very young child, isn’t altogether successful; in particular, the boy’s overly crude rendering lacks the simple elephant shape’s unforced appeal. The title is also a puzzler, as the word “birthday” doesn’t appear anywhere in the text, nor is it a theme of the story.

Young children will enjoy this picture book’s unlikely story of can-do empowerment, dreams, and friendship, but its illustrations could have used some refinement.

Pub Date: March 10th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0989069861
Page count: 38pp
Publisher: Fernwood & Hedges Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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