My enormous thanks to Poppy Stimpson for sending me a surprise copy of Peter Carnavas’ children’s book, The Elephant, in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.
Published by Puskin Press on 28th January 2021, The Elephant is available for purchase through the links here.
‘A beautiful book – not just heartwarming but heart healing’ Chris Riddell
A big grey elephant is following Olive’s father around. It leaves with him for work and trails behind him when he comes home, keeping him heavy and sad. Every day, Olive wishes it would disappear.
When she is asked to bring something old and wonderful to show her class, Olive immediately wants to bring her old bike – but she will need her father’s help to fix it. Teaming up with her cheery grandad and best friend Arthur, she sets out to chase the elephant away.
My Review of The Elephant
There’s an elephant in the room with Dad.
Oh my word. The Elephant is a wonderful, wonderful book. Imbued with love and hope it explores grief and family relationships with total sensitivity so that I sobbed through much of the story and ended the book feeling as if I’d been given a gift of real joy. It is fabulous.
As this is a children’s book I must comment on its suitability for its target audience first. Beautifully illustrated with black and white drawings alongside a perfect balance of white space to text, The Elephant is just right for independent readers to manage alone with a font that is easy to read and vocabulary that is accessible but mature enough to appeal to more mature children. This is a story I can imagine a whole family sharing together and it would be perfect for classroom use too because it tackles mental health, grief and depression in a sensitive manner that guides, but doesn’t exacerbate, any possible emotions in the readership. I thought the themes were brilliantly handled and the metaphor of a grey elephant for Olive’s Dad’s depression is a concrete example any child could understand. I loved too, the friendship between Olive and Arthur, illustrating that boys and girls can be friends quite easily. It is also so encouraging to find a warm intergenerational relationship as Olive enjoys adventures with her Grandad.
But leaving aside this is a children’s book, it is also absolutely compelling for adults too. The exploration of Dad’s elephantine grief and Grandad’s tortoise sadness touched me completely. There is a moment between Olive and her dog Freddie towards the end of The Elephant that quite undid me. There is a depth of emotion between the pages of The Elephant that manages to be exactly the right level of feeling for the reader. Add in the rediscovery of childlike joy and The Elephant is a book that breaks down the emotional defences so many of us put in place, teaches us how to communicate with those we love and to articulate our feelings and leaves us feeling uplifted and complete.
Whatever you do, don’t dismiss Peter Carnavas’s The Elephant as a book for children only. It is a beautiful book – in presentation, in message and by being a book of hope for all, and I adored it.
About Peter Carnavas
Peter Carnavas’s career as a primary school teacher inspired him to embrace his passion for children’s literature. He is the author of several award-winning picture books. The Elephant is his first novel. Peter lives on Australia’s Sunshine Coast with his family, a dog called Florence and a cat named Harry.