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Sunday, January 7, 2018

How To Be An Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild. Written and illustrated by Katherine Roy. David Macaulay Studio, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $ 21.99 ages 8 and up

"With every sniff, a baby elephant samples the air, breathing in the details of an acacia or an aunt. Unlike humans, elephants have poor vision, so a calf  "sees" the world around her by following her nose. A bouquet of aromas made of tiny odor molecules travels a few feet up her extra-long nasal cavaties to land on supersized nasal folds ... "

I so eagerly anticipated the publication of Katherine Roy's second book that I worried I might be disappointed. Why? I had been absolutely fascinated by Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands (David Macaulay Studio, 2014). So, when I heard How To Be An Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild was to be published this past September, I could hardly wait to see it. Thanks to Fernanda at Raincoast, I received a copy. I have had it for a while, and have read it a number of times. I am., in no way, disappointed! I am sorry that I didn't tell you about it sooner. It is a book to savor.

It is an incredible book to share with kids, as it gives a close-up look at how a baby elephant finds its way from complete dependence on the herd to being a mature, contributing member. In breathtaking illustrations Ms. Roy provides a clear look at that baby's journey. Her birth is highly anticipated by female members of her herd, and her growth and development are watched over carefully. It is a steep learning curve, but guidance is given every step of the way ... with a perfect family of teachers.

The author looks at multiple topics as they pertain to the calf ... birth, family, travel, senses, anatomy, and the process of maturation. It is an intriguing and informative design, and allows readers to see that every member of the herd helps to raise the newcomer. Her stunning and detailed artwork is incredibly appealing. She switches perspective from daily life with the herd to diagrams that show the way an elephant's body works. She leaves nothing out as she chronicles, through scrupulous research and gorgeous art, the many aspects of newborn's life from birth until she is ready to take on all aspects of being a contributing member of her family.

What remarkable animals these giant pachyderms are! Their survival in the wild is paramount if we are to continue learning more about them. Back matter includes a note detailing Katherine Roy’s visit to Kenya to learn about elephants and the threats to their existence (with appended map) as well as selected sources, both print and film.       

"They are born wearing wrinkles. They are friendly, but also 
fierce. They talk in deafening rumbles, and move around on 
soundless feet. Their noses have fingers, and they wave hello 
with their ears. They are wild, majestic, unmistakably 
marvelous, and - in many ways - so much like us."                                                                   

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