Clumsy Gerald the giraffe first found his footing and gained the confidence to joyfully cut a rug at the Jungle Dance in 1999’s Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees (Orchard). Gerald’s story clearly still has legs, having sold more than 3.6 million copies combined across hardcover, board book, and padded board book editions, and logging 245 weeks on the PW bestseller list (where it currently sits at #6), as well as being translated into 31 languages. Now the British creative duo of Andreae and Parker-Rees returns to Africa as the setting for a new tale, this time featuring Num Num, a young elephant trying to discover his own special talent. Free to Be Elephant Me is scheduled for release on July 1, 2021. We asked Andreae and Parker-Rees about the forthcoming book, the cover of which we’re revealing here.

“I wanted to write something with a similar tone to Giraffes Can’t Dance but with a different, or at least complementary, message,” Andreae said of how he came to the idea. While Giraffes focuses on “finding your own way of doing things—your own unique talent—and going for it,” he noted, “not all of us have a particular talent that we can really shine at. Some people, most people, in fact, don’t have anything at all that makes them exceptional. The people who I admire most are often the people who are just, well... nice,” he said. “It’s not always easy and it often takes strength to be kind, steady, quiet, compassionate, understanding. People can only really display these qualities if they have the courage to be vulnerable, to be truly and authentically themselves. This is, paradoxically, perhaps one of the greatest talents of all. Now that is something worth writing about, and worth celebrating, I thought to myself!”

In terms of inventing a protagonist, Andreae said, “An elephant just felt right for this. The combination of their strength and their perceived wisdom seemed appropriate, along with the fact that they look so wonderful.”

Parker-Rees wholeheartedly agrees. “I particularly love elephants,” he said. “I’ve always been obsessed with them. I even wanted to be one when I was younger, but when I was told that might be difficult, I started making books about them instead,” he added. “I’ve still got the first I made [see illustration]. So, imagine how excited I was to be sent Giles’s wonderful, moving story about elephants to illustrate, more than 50 years later!” The story’s backdrop is also a favorite of Parker-Rees’s. “It’s a world I love to paint,” he said. “There’s nowhere on Earth with such a rich diversity of large animals as the African savannah.”

Though he’s introducing brand new characters, Andreae said he was happy about imaginatively traveling back to “a landscape and atmosphere that Guy and I have visited before. I adore the colors that Guy uses for the African sky—the dawns and the sunsets,” he said. “The terrain is so varied and beautiful too. Africa has a wonderful and intense grandeur to it, which Guy captures beautifully.”

Addressing his approach to the book’s cover, Parker-Rees said, “What I want to capture in my illustrations more than anything else is exuberance: a celebration of the pure joy of being alive. That’s what I was aiming for with this cover. I hope Num-Num looks exuberant—I think he does.”

Ken Geist, v-p and publisher-at-large for Scholastic Trade Publishing, who edited both books, was very pleased to have the Giraffes team reunited for a new project. “I had been waiting for quite a while for the next Giles/Guy collaboration and when I read it, I jumped for joy,” he said. He believes the first book has staying power because it “brilliantly inspires children of all ages to try things in their own way. The lyrical rhymes and lively illustrations remind readers that new experiences can be fun.”

Andreae reflected on the long life of Giraffes, saying, “It makes me feel very proud and humbled that so many people of all generations feel such a connection to it. It was our first book together and actually it grew pretty slowly at first.” Now after marking a 20-year milestone, “The interesting thing is how much momentum it has gained within the last 10 years or so, the last five, even,” Andreae said. “I just think we’re very lucky that people found inspiration in the message and Guy has an extraordinary knack of combining humor and emotion in his illustrations. That’s very hard to pull off.”

For his role in the success of Giraffes, Parker-Rees credits Andreae with creating a “beautiful” story for him to illustrate. “When a story is really good, the images just appear as I read it,” he explained. “All I have to do is get them onto paper. I knew Giraffes Can’t Dance was special when I was painting it, in particular the cover, but I never imagined it would resonate with quite so many people around the world,” he said. “As an artist, I couldn’t wish for anything more.”