Elephants are the largest land animal and can live up to 60 years. There are 2 basic species of elephants: the African elephant (whose ears are larger, look like the continent of Africa!) and Asian elephants (whose ears are smaller, and look like the shape of India!). Asian elephants are an endangered species, with only 25,000 wild elephants living in: Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Nepal, Malaysia, Cambodia, Myanmar, and southern China.
Elephants have been highly regarded to Asian culture for thousands of years; here, elephants have been domesticated and are used for religious festivals, transportation and to move heavy objects. Other fun facts:
- they are vegetarians, and eat 400 pounds of green leaves, bark, branches, fruit and grass daily- they weigh over 10,000 pounds!
- they have 6 sets of teeth that wear down and are replaced
- the tusks are actually incisor teeth that elephants use to dig in the ground for roots and break apart tree bark. In Asian elephants, only the male has tusks
- the elephant’s nose has 40,000 muscles and can pick up tiny objects
Here are some wonderful books whose main characters are Asian Elephants!
1) Elephants Never Forget by Anusha Ravishankar, an award-winning children’s author from India. With black, white, and indigo illustrations, we hear the story of an elephant who gets separated from his family during a storm. While wondering what to do, he comes to a river: “The buffaloes looked so calm, so serene./ The water was lovely, cool and green.” Referred to as the “Indian Dr. Seuss,” the Ravishankar tells how the elephant is adopted by the group of water buffaloes. In the end, he encounters another group of elephants and must decide whether to stay with his buffalo family, or go with the new herd. As an adoptive mom and a teacher of immigrant children, I think children may identify with this simple story, and appreciate his identity-searching.
2). An Elephant in the Backyard by Richard Sobol. In the village of Tha Klang in Thailand, 80 domesticated elephants roam freely. In this story we meet several people from the village: Jak and Muay, 2 children who “drive” (and ride!) their elephant; Choy, a mahout (the Thai word for elephant trainer) spends 10 years training a single elephant; Wan Pen “full moon,” a special elephant who plays soccer with the kids after school. We learn that for thousands of years elephants and mahouts pulled trees out of the forests for lumber. but now that the forests have disappeared, the loggers and elephants have lost their jobs. The book tells how they now earn a living performing for tourists. Sprinkled throughout the book are facts and information about traditional life, such as how they cook and a bit of geography.
3). Balarama: A Royal Elephant, by Ted and Betsy Lewin. The authors of this story record their travels to southern India, where they meet see elephants in a traditional parade. They meet Balarama, the Royal Elephant and leader of the parade at the end of the celebration of Dasara in Mysore, India. The water-color illustrations detail the elephants in all their splendor, and the background information informs us about the history of the events and the elephants.
4). In the Village of the Elephants by Jeremy Schmidt. Accompanied with beautiful photographs, this story tells of the relationship between the mahouts (elephant trainers) and their elephants in a village in southern India. We learn details of how they feed them, take care of them, how the elephants work, how they ride them, and sometimes use them for religious festivals. Warning: my kids want a pet elephant after reading this book and An Elephant in the Backyard.
5). Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young. This Caldecott Honor book adapts an Indian folktale to tell the fable of seven blind mice attempting to discern the enormous figure in front of them, by drawing conclusions after examining only small parts of it. I love the moral of the story, and the simple but vivid illustrations.
6). Madhur Jaffrey drew on some of the greatest myths of Indian folklore to tell the story of Robi Dobi: The Marvelous Adventure of an Indian Elephant. (as a side note, she is not only an author for children, but also for Indian cookbooks. Madhur Jaffrey is an authority on Indian food!). This is a longer book- shorter than a normal “chapter book” but definitely longer than a “picture book.” I loved this story about aRobi Dobi the kind elephant, who is traveling through the jungle when he must rescue and help Kabbi (a tiny mouse), Maya Wishkaya (a dancing butterfly), and parrot Princess Tara. the story moves quickly and weaves the stories together, until its happy ending.
7). Elephant Dance: Memories of India, by Theresa Heine. A wonderfully written story of a little boy Ravi, who asks his visiting grandfather questions about India. The prose and similes are valuable writing, the story is culturally accurate and vivid, and the pictures are the perfect accompaniment to the vivid descriptions. The best part is when his grandfather tells him of the elephants in the procession of Divaali “who wore silk howdahs, blue as the royal peacock.”
Now that you’ve read all of these excellent books about Asian elephants, check out the directions for this stunning elephant craft: