cover image Bashi, Elephant Baby

Bashi, Elephant Baby

Theresa Radcliffe. Viking Children's Books, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-670-87054-7

This tender tale of a baby elephant's initiation into life on the African plain comes to a poignant close: ""Bashi had survived his first day."" From the earliest sweet moments (drowsy and ""full with milk,"" Bashi leans against his mother's legs as she strokes him with her trunk) to the last harrowing instant (sucked into a mudhole where he becomes an easy target for hunting lionesses, Bashi is dug free by his mother), Radcliffe's economically composed narrative resonates credibly and unsentimentally. The tale takes on the complexion and grandeur of eastern Africa in Butler's panoramic watercolor paintings, which stretch across each spread in dusty browns, straw-gold and cornflower blue. Against misty backgrounds of diffused light that suggests heat, animals are rendered with striking clarity and realistic detail. Most moving is the double-spread illustration of a shining Bashi moving through maize-colored dust and surrounded by his herd--""a great forest of legs""--safe from the lions. Butler's use of varying light and degree of detail arrests the eye while augmenting the narrative. Radcliffe succeeds in conveying the vulnerability of the newborn while affirming the comfort and safety he finds among his herd--a powerful metaphor for young readers. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)