The Elephant from Baghdad

Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris, illus. by Jon Cannell. Marshall Cavendish, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7614-6111-1
The team behind A Giraffe Goes to Paris (2010) continues its pursuit of historic megafauna with this tale of Abu the white elephant, sent to Charlemagne by the caliph Harun al-Rashid. Though the story shares many of its predecessor’s attractions—the wonderful outlandishness of the idea of taking a huge animal on a long journey, the delight of human-animal bonds—it suffers a bit by comparison. The medieval monk Notker the Stammerer provides narration as the ambassadors from Charlemagne’s court arrive in Baghdad to find “artists, musicians, scholars, mathematicians, architects, and poets.... The Europeans were treated to concerts and fine meals, even sherbet made of snow.” The caliph sends Charle-magne’s representatives back with “presents fit for a fellow emperor,” including an elaborate clock (discussed further in end notes) and, of course, Abu. The journey back to Aachen and Abu’s somewhat quiet relationship with Charlemagne may leave some readers feeling wistful—too bad they couldn’t all have stayed in warm, lively Baghdad. Yet the eye-opening depiction of a city now known as a war zone as a paradise is worth the price of admission. Ages 5–8. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/12/2012
Release date: 05/01/2012
Book - 978-0-7614-6112-8
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