The Elephant’s Girl by Celesta Rimington

The Elephant’s Girl

Celesta Rimington, Author

Crown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 19, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Elephants, Zoo, Tornado, Ghosts, Adventure, Mystery

Opening: “The wind and I have a complicated relationship. Because of the wind, I’m the girl without a birthday, without a name, without a beginning to my story. See, the wind took my family away when I was small, and I don’t remember them or where I came from.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

An elephant never forgets, but Lexington Willow can’t remember what happened before an EF5 tornado swept her away when she was a toddler. All she knows is that it landed her near an enclosure in a Nebraska zoo; and there an elephant named Nyah protected her from the storm. With no trace of her birth family, Lex grew up at the zoo with Nyah and her elephant family; her foster father, Roger; her best friend, Fisher; and the wind whispering in her ear.

Now that she’s twelve, Lex is finally old enough to help with the elephants. But during their first training session, Nyah sends her a telepathic image of the woods outside the zoo. Despite the wind’s protests, Lex decides to investigate Nyah’s message and gets wrapped up in an adventure involving ghosts, lost treasure, and a puzzle that might be the key to finding her family. As she hunts for answers, Lex must summon the courage to leave the secure borders of her zoo to discover who she really is–and why the tornado brought her here all those years ago?

Why I like this book:

Celesta Rimington’s debut novel about Lexington’s mission to discover her true identity is full of heart, family, and friendship. Rimington’s writing is graceful and filled with vivid imagery and details. Readers will find themselves lured into Lex’s story from the first chapter.

This is a magical adventure about Lex’s unique relationship with the African elephant, Nyah, and a mysterious ghost, who both save her life on the night the tornado that sweeps through the zoo. Lex feels a connection to Nyah, who communicates with her telepathically. Nyah leads Lex to find Miss Amanda, who insists she’s a “misplaced spirit,” who has some unfinished business to attend to that involves a hidden treasure.

The characters are authentic and well developed. Lex is curious and determined to learn about her past. She loves Roger Marsh, the zoo’s train engineer, who becomes her legal guardian, when her family isn’t found. They live on the zoo grounds in his home. And for Lex, the zoo is home. When Lex starts school, kids are mean and call her “the elephant girl.” So she is home schooled by Mrs. Leigh, the zoo keeper’s wife and mother of her best friend, Fisher. Lex can always count on Fisher. Their summer involves searching for ghosts, chasing a lost treasure, mischief and danger. But because they live at the zoo, there are chores and many things to do. Readers are going to want to live at a zoo.

I was drawn to this story because of my love of elephants. And Rimington doesn’t disappoint with her extensive research into how these intelligent elephants communicate with each other over distances through the thumping of their feet. They create an “infrasonic sound” that is too low for humans to hear. In the story, Lex and the elephant trainer, Thomas, both detect the sound as a thumping in their temples. I didn’t know that elephants have 40,000 muscles in their trunks. And I am also impressed with her research into the steam locomotives and what it takes to run a zoo and care for the wildlife.

The Elephant’s Girl weaves together realistic fiction, mystery and magical realism that will create an extraordinary experience for readers. The ending is bittersweet and satisfying. Fans of Katherine Applegate, Jennifer Holmes and Kate DiCamillo will enjoy this novel. Make sure you read the “Author’s Note” at the end, where you will learn about these majestic elephants and find additional websites about elephant research and wildlife sanctuaries.

Celesta Rimington is an elephant advocate, a musical theater performer, and an active participant in her local writing community. As a teenager, she worked at a zoo in Omaha, which is part of the reason she set her story in Nebraska. She now lives in Utah with her husband and two children, where they have a miniature railroad with a rideable steam train. Visit Rimington at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

My Friend, Mi Amigo by Kristin Tripathy

My Friend, Mi Amigo

Kristin Tripathy, Author

Denise Turu, Illustrator

Authors as Heroes Publishing, Fiction, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Bilingual story, Play, Zoo, Friendship

Opening: Hola!…Huh? / Hello!…Eh?

Synopsis: Interacting with others who don’t speak the same language can sometimes be challenging. However, when an English-speaking boy encounters a Spanish-speaking boy at the zoo, nothing can stop them from having an engaging and playful time…not even a language barrier. After all, friendship speaks louder than words.

What I like about this book:

This is a clever bilingual book for both English- and Spanish-speaking children. Kristin Tripathy features two boys visiting the zoo. Each double-spread page shows the boys visiting animals at the zoo with bubble comments highlighting their conversation. When one boy says, “Look! A gray elephant.” The other responds “Como?”  On the opposite page the Spanish-speaking boy says “Mira! Un elefante gris.”  This makes translation easy for children.

This is a book about friendship and the creative way two boys overcome a language barrier so that they  have a grand time exploring the zoo together. It has humor and a great theme.  Denise Turu’s large, colorful and bold illustrations compliment the story. Visit the author at her website, Authors As Heroes.  The book is also published in English and Hindi, which you will find by visiting the website.

Photos courtesy of Kristin Tripathy.

Resources: The book is a resource. Both English- and Spanish-speaking children will learn new vocabulary as it is simply presented in bubble comments. It definitely can be used in the classroom to teach both language and animals

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*The author provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick

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Lindsay Mattick, Author

Sophie Blackall, Illustrator

Little, Brown and Company, Oct. 20, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Bear, True Story, Canadian Soldier, Mascot, London Zoo, Christopher Robbins

Opening: “Could you tell me a story?” asked Cole. “It’s awfully late.” It was long past dark, and a time to be asleep. “What kind of story?” “You know. A true story. One about a Bear.” 

Book Synopsis: Before Winnie-the-Pooh, there was a real bear named Winnie.

In 1914, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian on his way to tend horses in World War I, followed his heart and rescued a baby bear. He named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war.

Harry Colebourn’s real-life great-granddaughter tells the true story of a remarkable friendship and an even more remarkable journey — from the fields of Canada to a convoy across the ocean to an army base in England…

And finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie made another new friend: a real boy named Christopher Robin. Here is the remarkable true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.

Why I like this book:

This is an inspiring true story by Lindsay Mattick about the origins of the most famous bear ever — Winnie-the-Pooh. It will rekindle memories of adults who loved this bear and appeal to their children and grandchildren. It is a heartwarming story for the entire family.

It is a revelation for me to learn that there is a family connection to the endearing story about this globally well-loved bear. The author is the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, the soldier-veterinarian who found the little bear and named him Winnie. Her storytelling is warm and friendly and filled with little-known details about the bear.  It was a special treat to see the album of pictures of Winnie with Colebourn, the platoon members, at the London Zoo and with the original Christopher Robbins Milne. Children who love Milne’s classic Winnie-the-Pooh stories, will be captivated by the bear’s history. Sophie Blackall’s watercolor illustrations are warm and beautifully expressive. They compliment and add charm to this lovely story.

Resources/Activities:  Read your favorite Winnie-the-Pooh book, whether Milne’s original stories or the Disney series. Encourage kids to draw a picture of Winnie and pick out a favorite quote. Check out the teacher’s guide for using Finding Winnie with students.