cover image Elefantastic! A Story of Magic in 5 Acts

Elefantastic! A Story of Magic in 5 Acts

Jane Yolen, illus. by Brett Helquist. Chronicle, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4521-7681-9

Yolen (Eeny Up Above) writes in an afterword of learning about a Broadway producer who bought an elephant, orphaned in Zimbabwe in 1982, and built a circus around it (“Because I have always wanted an elephant,” reads a quote). This variation on that story, told in five acts, unfolds in solitary, rhyming “ele” words, each painted in circus-style lettering. The tale starts with dismaying scenes as a baby elephant wanders away from its herd and toward a trap filled with bananas (“Eleph-ate”), then is captured (“Ele-vated// Ele-fate”) and trundled onto an airplane (“Ele-fastened// Ele-bound// Ele-flown”) by a tan-skinned trapper. On the journey’s other side, Helquist (Just Being Dalí) reassures readers about the elephant’s subsequent quality of life in dapper gouache spreads that show a tall, kindly white-skinned magician who kneels and pats the elephant (“Ele-found”). Inset panels show their growing relationship as the magician bottle-feeds the baby and teaches it circus tricks. Pretty soon, the two are performing together, and spreads show the aging duo’s routine, which involves painting and washing the creature. After years of tours that, per images of posters, cross the U.S., the magician sees that the elephant has had enough, arranges a showy farewell, and finds it a sanctuary with other elephants. If the “ele” conceit at times feels at odds with the story’s subject matter, including elephant trade and exploitation, the artwork successfully centers a magician’s love for a creature in this nostalgic piece of Americana. Ages 3–5. Author’s agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (May)