Written and illustrated by: Katherine Roy

Roaring Brook Press, 2017, nonfiction

For Ages: 7 and UP

Themes/Topics: elephants, development, life cycle, learning, African animals, conservation

First page:

“WITH FLAPPING EARS and whiffling trunks, the herd quickly spreads the news. After 22 months of growing, a new baby is on her way. From walking and rumbling to drinking and dining, nothing will come easy for this giant-to-be. But like her mother before her, she’ll have to learn

…how to be an elephant.”

Summary (from publisher):

The savanna is not an easy place to live, even for African elephants, the largest land animals on earth. If it’s a challenge for these 7,000-pound giants, what’s it like for their newborn babies?

An infant elephant has precious little time to learn the incredible array of skills that are necessary to keep up, from projecting her voice across a 10-octave range to using the 100,000 muscles in her trunk to stay hydrated. But this giant-to-be has the perfect classroom–a family herd made up of her mother, sisters, cousins, and aunts. With their help and protection, she’ll learn how to survive, how to thrive, and how to be an elephant. 

Why I Like This Book:

This book beautifully balances detailed information about what makes African elephants unique with arresting watercolors that capture the movements and emotions of the elephants and of their environment.

Roy makes clear that an elephant calf, like a human baby, is not born knowing how to be an elephant. She must learn nearly everything, and her education continues “for a lifetime.” The text details how important an elephant calf’s family is in modeling the behaviors she must learn.

Roy includes detailed information regarding elephant anatomy and the science behind how they walk, smell, and communicate. Did you know that an elephant’s trunk contains over 100,000 muscles? Kids – and adults – will find plenty of fascinating facts about African elephants here.

Roy points out that elephants need a lot of space and that humans have not been “good at sharing common ground.” This book is bound to help kids develop a deep appreciation for this amazing species. And kids who have a deep appreciation for wildlife are more likely to work to conserve it. As Roy says in her author’s note, “…ultimately, elephant conservation is a choice. Their most dangerous threat is also the source of their only hope. There’s enough space for us all. Are we willing to share it?”

Resources: Writers and educators might enjoy the excellent All the Wonders podcast featuring Roy: http://www.allthewonders.com/podcasts/katherine-roy-all-the-wonders-episode-411/

(For a collection of picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)


3 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday: HOW TO BE AN ELEPHANT

  1. This is a beautiful book! I’ve been wanting to read it because I love elephants. Did the author mention that elephants communicate (about danger, food and water resources etc) with other elephants over long distances by pounding their feet. I didn’t realize how sensitive their feet are. Lovely review. Happy holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Patricia, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. She has a section called “Good Vibrations,” in which she details how elephants’ low-frequency calls can travel up to 2 miles during the day and over 6 miles at night. Other elephants in range can hear the rumbles “as either sound waves in the air or vibrations in the ground, which they’re able to detect with the tips of their trunks and the cushioned soles of their feet.” So cool! Thanks for stopping by. Happy holidays!


      1. You’re right. Will order the book. I had a friend who went to an elephant refuge in Africa with a group of chanters. The elephants had been abused. So the women began by just chanting while they were nearby, many times during the day for two weeks. The elephants were drawn to their music and before the trip was over, each of the women had made a connection with an elephant. They’ve made many trips now. Music is the international language of peace and harmony and healing!

        Liked by 1 person

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