By Author / Illustrator
Peter Carnavas, Peter Carnavas
Pushkin Children's Books
Paperback / softback
Having just turned the last page of this beautiful, tender book and wiped away a tear, it was impossible to resist the urge to go back to the beginning and read it all over again.
The Elephant is a story of many layers. For some readers it is a tale of an adventurous and caring little girl called Olive who lives with her Dad, her grandfather and a rather large elephant that follows her father around when she rather wishes that it wouldn't. This simplicity is mirrored by uncomplicated, endearing line drawings.
To other readers however, it is a touching story of the power of grief and the all-consuming nature of depression. Olive's Dad can't shake off the heavy grey 'elephant' of sadness that follows him everywhere and weighs him down. Seen through Olive's eyes, the elephant is the reason that Dad's face never smiles, why he doesn't play with her and why he doesn't get round to fixing her bike. The bike that once belonged to her mother, a connection perhaps between the then and now of Olive's life. Whenever Olive looks at Dad, she sees the bulk of the elephant and its suffocating shadow. Olive desperately wants to banish the elephant from home so that she might regain her father.
The skill of this story is that the sadness is beautifully balanced with joy and light and colour. Olive's grandfather is her salvation. He cooks for her, he collects her from school, he tends the garden and he makes the best paper aeroplanes. Olive treasures the time spent with her scarecrow-armed grandfather and their adventures are exquisitely described. There is so much happiness in their times together that those moments are the dazzling rays of sunshine that banish the times when the dark clouds gather.
It is a shock therefore, that after an accident, Olive wakes to discover another grey animal in her life. This time, an enormous grey tortoise with sad watery eyes that sits beside her grandfather as he sits waiting for her to recover from her injuries. Olive recognises that the tortoise is a symbol of a sadness and a worry surrounding her beloved grandfather that she had not acknowledged before. Poor Olive; so much sadness when all she wants and deserves is joy. But, don't for one minute, think that this is heavy going or that Olive's story is a gloomy one. Olive is determined, creative and full of the giggles and fun that any little girl of her age should be. Olive will make you smile; she won't make you sad.
Olive's endearingly scatty teacher wants the children in her class to bring something old into school. Olive's contribution is simply perfect. With her unwavering goal of banishing the greys of elephants and tortoises, Olive orchestrates moments of absolute beauty which paint her world in dazzling hues and which allow her father to start seeing in technicolour once more.
As the story builds towards its beautiful ending and just when you feel that your heart can't stretch any further, there's an unexpected twist that will make you gasp and maybe your eyes will leak just a little bit.
Peter Carnavas has written an exquisite story with the rich, beautiful of descriptions of life and love through the eyes of a little girl named Olive. It is a story that will be read again and again and will leave its imprint on your heart long after you have turned its final, gorgeous page.
176 pages / Ages 7+ / Reviewed by Jo Clarke, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 7+