By Barroux. Candlewick Press, 2016. 32 pages. $14.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 3–7.
Where’s the Elephant? begins like a picture puzzle in which children look for an elephant, a parrot, and a snake hidden among the colorful trees of a jungle. As you turn the pages, however, stumps begin to appear where there had been trees, and soon the animals are “hidden” in a smaller and smaller area of the jungle on each page, while more and more of the page becomes buildings, cars, and roads. Before long the three animals cluster around a single tree surrounded by skyscrapers, and after that they are behind bars in a zoo smaller than a house. That’s not the end of the story however. On the next page the animals break out and wielding the single tree, escape to the coast. They get in a handy boat and sail to a forested island.
This wordless book tells the story in big, bold illustrations combining collage, paint, and drawing. The animals are charming, but the trees might be even more fun to look at, with their bright colors and variety of interesting patterns. By contrast, the buildings are very boring and monochromatic, contributing to the message that nature is good and human encroachment on it is bad. The message may be very clear, but it’s saved from being too heavy-handed by its wordlessness, allowing children and adults to ask open-ended questions and tell their own stories about what’s happening on the pages.
This would be a good first book to introduce ideas of environmentalism and earthcare to our youngest children, inviting them to think about what problems they see in the book, how things might have been done differently so as not to cause such problems, and what further solutions can be found for the elephant, parrot, snake, and presumably the humans, who are never actually shown. Because the book is fairly large format and the pictures are so bold, it would work reasonably well for sharing with a group of children, but you should be prepared for the children to scramble closer and closer as they search for and point out the hidden animals. Perhaps after looking at and discussing the story, children might be encouraged to make their own artwork imagining how they think humans and nature could exist in the world together in a more Quakerly way.