cover image When Anju Loved Being an Elephant

When Anju Loved Being an Elephant

Wendy Henrichs, illus. by John Butler. Sleeping Bear, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58536-533-3

Elephants’ excellent memories come into play in this somber but hopeful story of a former circus elephant who finds refuge at a sanctuary in her old age. Anju, a fictional elephant born in Sumatra and later taken to perform in American circuses, has fond recollections of growing up with her friend Lali, a youth that Henrichs (I Am Tama, Lucky Cat) evokes with languid, descriptive prose (“The rhythmic, lapping waters of the surrounding Indian Ocean and South China Sea were their island lullaby”). Butler’s (A Mama for Owen) soft portraits of Anju and her fellow elephants have a soothing quality that helps gloss over some of the darker chapters in Anju’s story (“Some trainers were kind, but others used the bull-hook”). Despite Anju’s abduction and her hard life being sold from circus to circus, Henrichs doesn’t let the story feel too bleak—it’s clear very early on that Vincent, Anju’s current “mahout” (trainer), is a good guy and that he’s taking her to a better place. General information about elephants’ habits, traits, and challenges closes out this gentle animal tale. Ages 6–10. (Sept.)