“The sound of the rifle shot rang through the air. For a few moments it seemed as if the whole world had stopped. The cicadas fell silent, a bush rat dived for its burrow, the cattle paused in their chewing and looked upwards with wide empty stares; and Bat, the lone herd-boy who up till then had been dreaming, swishing at bushes with a long whippy branch, let the switch fall and dropped suddenly down on his haunches. His head was quite hidden by the tall, yellow grass.”
In the African savannah heat Bat witnesses poachers at work, they shoot and kill a magnificent elephant and then take its tusks for the ivory. Little do they know that the elephant was a mother to a new born calf. Upon finding her Bat take the calf home and cares for her, knowing that one day Meya will have to go on her own way. With this day fast approaching Bat and his closest friend Muka, watch Meya carefully, but the villagers are more worried about the rumours that are finding there way into the savannah, rumours about war, suffering and kidnapping on the horizon. When Bat and Muka are thrown into a world they are unable to understand will the bond between them and their beloved elephant be enough to guide them home?
I had heard this book be compared to those penned by Michael Morpurgo and I was sceptical, I mean how can an authors fictional debut be as good as one of the most well known and highly rated middle grade authors? Upon reading it I can honestly say that the comparison is well deserved and Rachel Campbell-Johnston is well deserved of the high acclaim.
The story of The Child’s Elephant is not a happy one, there are trials and tribulations for all involved and I can honestly say that there were moments when my heart broke into pieces, thankfully thought it wasn’t long until Bat, Muka or Meya were there stitching it back together again. It helps if you know a little about the horrors facing certain African countries with regards to wars, famine and drought but even if you aren’t aware this book shows you exactly how extreme these things can be. I was gobsmacked at just how real the whole book felt and could seriously tell that the author had been to the land she was writing about.
The characters came alive on the page and each had their own personality, making them stand out form each other, even Bim the mute boy from Bat’s village and Gulu, the boy without whom Bat and Muka would have been able to complete one of their journeys. The main character was meant to be Bat but in all honesty Meya stole the show for me and I couldn’t believe how much personality she had considering she wasn’t an actual person.
The background to the world was fantastic and I understand so much about Africa and its inhabitants way of life just from reading. The background into the pygmies and the elephants was incredible too and I think it would encourage any younger reader to find out more about Africa and its rich history.
My one small niggle was that the book was quite description heavy and slow going in places. I found myself skim reading because I just wanted to get to the juicy bits, the adventure which would help the story on more. I really enjoyed the book but there were times when I considered giving up on it and coming back to it. However that may have just been due to my mood at the time of reading.
I really wouldn’t be surprised to see this book appear in school libraries and on reading lists in years to come and can honestly say that it deserves to be there, it is a beautiful yet sad tale about a boy, a girl and the elephant he saves, which has possibly the most amazing ending I have read in a book.
The Child’s Elephant was published on 2nd May by David Fickling Books, a Random House imprint. My copy was sent from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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