Little elephants by Graeme Base
Puffin, 2012, ISBN 9780670076475.
(Age: 4-7) Recommended. Kindness. Farm life. Life is tough on the wheat farm. Jim's mother tells him that he can't keep a pet mouse because it might encourage other mice to come and the farm is always being threatened by plagues, not just of mice but of weevils and locusts. Jim understands and let Pipsqueak go far from the farmhouse. When Jim sees a stranger picking some wheat, he tells him he is welcome to have it. Later when he finds a strange looking trumpet on the gate post, and blows it, he hears a trumpeting sound and lo and behold under his bed that night is a herd of little elephants.
It is rare to see a traditional fairy tale telling in an Australian setting. Usually the good fairy (or in this case the good swagman), is set solidly in a European world and it is one that I was familiar with. Initially, (and as a farmer's daughter), I found it difficult to visualise the happy ending but on reflection I began to appreciate the risk that Base has taken putting a fairy tale ending in a bleak Australian setting. With his wonderful illustrations, Base brings to life what it is like to live on a farm. The worry that the farmer, Jim's mother, carries constantly with her is illustrated through her worried face and bent head and readers will be able to emphasise with the hardships that farmers face with plagues of insects and mice. Jim is depicted as an optimistic child who is kind to strangers and wants to really help his mother.
The world that Jim discovers under his bed is a rich, imaginative one. The little elephants are lots of fun, riding in Jim's truck and cars and having a wild time out in the yard. The exuberance of the fight between the locusts and the small elephants is exhilarating. The dark illustrations beg to be viewed again and again to see the detail of the elephants faces, the expressions on the faces of the people and tiny details like a soldier's picture on the mantelpiece that gives a clue to who Jim's father is.
Farmer's children will wish that an act of kindness could save a wheat crop! All children will have a better understanding of life on a farm and will rejoice in the flights of imagination that Base so beautifully brings to life.