cover image Balarama: A Royal Elephant

Balarama: A Royal Elephant

Betsy Lewin, Ted Lewin, . . Lee & Low, $19.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-60060-265-8

Rich watercolors and as-it-happens writing bring the story of India's royal elephants into sharp focus. On the Lewins' (Gorilla Walk ) first trip to India, they hear about Drona, a beloved elephant chosen to head the parade of a religious festival. When they meet Drona face-to-face, they agree: “He is magnificent. We feel his aura strongly.” But between their first trip and their second, Drona is killed in an accident, and the focus shifts to Balarama, the newly chosen lead elephant. How will Balarama cope with the noise and the crowds? The Lewins' watercolor spreads emphasize India's brilliant light, deep purple shadows and the way the elephants dwarf their human handlers. They are honest about the cruelty of past capture methods, but include anecdotes to offset the story's sober moments (as when Drona tips over a truck carrying bananas “and ate all but one case”). Loose sketchbook spots appear intermittently, which will either provide light relief or distract from the more ambitious and realistic spreads. Still, for a clear view of a tradition dating back centuries, it's a valuable contribution. Ages 6–11. (Sept.)