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The Trouble with Elephants - Chris Riddell

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1 Review

Genre: Junior Books / Author: Chris Riddell / Edition: New edition / Paperback / 32 Pages / Book is published 1997-11-03 by Walker Books Ltd

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      15.02.2012 10:40
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      A cute, amusing book for young readers and pre-readers.

      In this playful, engaging book for very young children, a little girl's much-cherished toy elephant leads her to muse on all the problems that living with a real elephant would bring. This includes such things as the elephant making the bath water overflow, stealing all the bedclothes and eating all the buns on picnics. My daughter received this book when Father Christmas visited her nursery school class many years ago and it was one of her favourites when she was small. It was always a popular choice for a bedtime story. I am pleased to see that this book is still available used from sellers at Amazon from £0.01. At that price you really can't grumble!

      This book will obviously be a big hit with children who like elephants, as my daughter did. One of the things my daughter enjoyed was the way the book combines the familiar with the unusual, the mundane with the ridiculous. There are references to everyday events that any child will relate to, such as taking a bath, going to bed, having breakfast, going on picnics, playing, etc. but there are also lots of absurd and gloriously silly things going on, such as the little girl sharing the bathtub with an elephant that is wearing a frilly, pink shower cap, elephants playing games in the park, elephants sliding down bannisters, riding bicycles or driving cars. This certainly makes for an amusing story, which pushes the boundaries of the imagination. Animals with human-like characteristics always seem to be popular in children's storybooks.

      Although this book discusses things that only elephants in stories do, such as playing badminton and playing hide and seek, it does make young children think about the characteristics of real elephants and what makes them such unique animals. Many of the jokes in this book arise out of the elephant's immense size and weight. For example, in one picture we see the little girl and the elephant sunbathing, but he is blocking out all her sun. In another picture, they are on a seesaw but the elephant's weight means that the seesaw doesn't bob up and down like it should. The children also observe the elephant in the book using its trunk to pick up buns or to drink lemonade or to spray water all over the little girl, which demonstrates the dexterity and versatility of the elephant's trunk. Even though the pictures in the book are of cartoon elephants doing comic things, they are sufficiently realistic to show the animal's main features, such as its grey colouring, big, floppy ears, stumpy legs, trunk and tail.

      There is only a short bit of text on each page, so it's not one of those bedtime stories that is going to take an age to read. The text incorporates many high-frequency words (the commonly occurring words that children are encouraged to learn to recognise on sight, such as 'the', 'in', 'on', 'to', 'they' etc.) along with some more challenging words like 'elephant' and 'picnic' which are repeated in the text so that children can become familiar with them and gradually build up a core vocabulary when they start reading the book independently. A lot of children, even before they can read words, are able to memorise a story that has been read to them and enjoy picking up the book, turning the pages sequentially and 'reading' the story from the pictures. Although this is not real reading, it is a valuable pre-reading skill as it means that children are becoming interested in books and appreciating that a story starts at the beginning, that you go from left to right, turning one page at a time, etc. The Trouble with Elephants is ideal for this kind of pre-reading activity as the expressive, clear illustrations can almost carry the story without the need for words.

      There is a rather sweet message in this story that, although elephants have all kinds of annoying traits, the little girl can't help but love them. No doubt even the youngest readers will have experienced feelings of irritation over the habits and behaviour of friends, or siblings or pets, for instance. The book reassures them that it's okay to feel like that sometimes and that you love people in spite of their faults. People (like elephants) can be annoying yet endearing at the same time.

      Reading this book to a child encourages the child to make simple predictions and comments about what is happening as the story progresses. What is going to happen to that bicycle that the elephant is riding? Why is the elephant spilling the bath water? My daughter used to wonder why the elephant in this book was frightened of mice and whether elephants really were frightened of mice. She always loved the picture where the elephants are trying unsuccessfully to play hide and seek but they are just too big to hide behind any of the trees. There is a lot of detail in the pictures and they are great for testing observational skills. The picnic scenes are particularly good for spotting lots of different things. Children can be asked to point to the elephants who are playing Frisbee, the elephant who is hiding in a tree, the elephant who is wearing sunglasses, the elephants who are snoozing, etc. The little girl's facial expressions are conveyed wonderfully. Sometimes she looks glum, sometimes puzzled, sometimes aghast, sometimes delighted by the elephant's behaviour, depending on whether he is standing on her foot, sitting on her jigsaw, snoring so loud that the window panes rattle, or tickling her with his trunk. Even young readers will be able to empathise with the little girl's different moods and even to infer things that aren't stated directly in the text. For instance, in the picture where the little girl can't get to sleep because the elephant has taken all the bedclothes and is snoring, my daughter used to wonder if the little girl would be tired next day for school, although this isn't mentioned specifically in the text. Putting her own interpretations on the story and being interested in the plight of the characters enhanced the reading experience for her even at such a young age.

      The Trouble with Elephants often led to amusing discussions about what trouble other animals could be if they shared your house. For example, what about the trouble with giraffes or the trouble with hippos? My daughter used to enjoy thinking about the very worst animal to share your bath with (a crocodile) or the best animal to play with at the park (a monkey would be ace on the climbing frame.) It made for some enjoyable chats. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to you.

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