The elephant in the room by Holly Goldberg Sloan

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What a gem of a book!  Sila’s family are Turkish migrants to the USA, and an unfortunate work-related conflict causes Sila’s mother to have to return to Turkey to iron out a migration issue. Unfortunately, this proves to be a more complex issue than anyone would want and Sila discovers the grief of separation and the pain of isolation. Her wonderful father takes her with him to a mechanical job on a farming property and there Sila meets a delightful rich older widower named Gio, a man whose grief lingers following the death of his wife (who was coincidentally one of Sila’s former teachers). A journey of friendship begins that includes the generous old man, an elephant, flamingos and a classmate on the Autism spectrum. Everything combines to provide joy where it had not been, reconciliation and the possibility of new things despite obstacles and grief from the past. And all of this revolves around the ex-circus elephant.

This is a heart-warming story by the author of Counting by 7s that deals with a variety of issues in a child-friendly way. Sila’s experience of overcoming her personal heartaches through new friendship possibilities and the acquisition of an elephant are uplifting. The young autistic boy has character and value and his concerns are dealt with in a life-affirming way. This is a delightful story and one that I will be recommending to students aged 9-14. It is certainly a different scenario for Australian students, but it will appeal to animal lovers and those who are prepared to step inside of the shoes of other children who are not exactly like themselves.

Themes: Elephants, Circus, Friendship, Immigration issues, Autism.

Carolyn Hull