Mela and the Elephant

By Dow Phumiruk, illustrated by Ziyue Chen. Sleeping Bear Press, 2018. 32 pages. $16.99/hardcover or eBook. Recommended for ages 5–8.

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Each of us could probably tell a tale of the joy that results from receiving kindness in a moment of need. We also know the terrible feeling of being excluded. In Mela and the Elephant, we follow a Thai girl as she realizes that acting without kindness results in pain for others.

At the outset of the story, Mela is setting out for a day of exploration. Her brother wants to accompany her, but she refuses, asking “What will you give me if I take you?” Soon after, Mela has need of a friendly companion as she finds herself lost. After meeting three animals who refuse her request for assistance, she meets an elephant. “‘It would make my heart happy to help you,’ the elephant said. ‘I don’t need anything in return.’”

The book is explicit that kindness needs no reward. Typical of fables, the message is not subtle, but in this case the delivery is not heavy-handed. The story can be enjoyed for itself, and not strictly as a teaching tool. However, it would be a natural fit for classrooms and First-day schools.

Author Dow Phumiruk moved from Thailand as a young child. The endnote about Thai customs will be appreciated. It includes, for example, a note about bowing in thanks, which is depicted in the story when Mela arrives home safely. Ziyue Chen’s digital illustrations include a wide range of greens that enliven the jungle setting. Against a background of softer colors, Mela stands out in her rich red trousers and deep blue sweater. Readers will enjoy the expressive faces of all the characters.

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