Today’s book was a huge hit for all of us on the first read-through. A story about being left out, being different, and ultimately – a story about being kind. It is a theme that is on constant repeat from my mouth as a mother and I adore books that illustrate the point so perfectly. Check out this beautiful and moving book, Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, 2015.
The story is about a little boy who is different from the start because he has a pet elephant. They are good friends, taking care of each other like good friends should. But having a pet elephant becomes a problem when the boy wants to go to a pet club and the sign on the door reads, “Strictly no elephants.”
The pair are dejectedly walking home when they come across a little girl and her pet skunk. They weren’t allowed into the club either, even though the sign didn’t specifically banish skunks. Quickly, the boy and the girl decide to be friends. And to start their own club.
But this is the part of the book that is my favorite. Human nature says to get revenge. They should start a club that doesn’t allow those nasty other club members to come. But they respond with kindness and inclusion. The boy and the girl immediately start picking up friends for their own club – everyone who has a different sort of pet than usual. And their club is already looking pretty fantastic when they add a sign on the door that says everyone is welcome. Kindness will win here.
And even better is that you can spy the mean sign pointers from the first club peering in the open door of the new club. My kids noticed that immediately. We talked about being kind even when no one else is, “turning the other cheek,” and forgiving without being asked. It was fantastic. And it came completely naturally thanks to this spectacular story.
And let’s just talk about the illustrations of this book, please! I absolutely adore Taeeun Yoo’s work here, from her characters, to the textures, to the color palette speaking to the mood of the moment. Several spreads would earn instant wall space in my home if given the chance for a print. I love the opening city scene (first spread of this post). I’m partial to city scenes, I realize, but I love the colors and the shapes of the buildings, and especially how Yoo filled the windows with kids and their pets. It is a fantastic way to get across the point of what pets are “normal.” And my other favorite spread (the third in this post) is the moody blue street scene where only the boy and his elephant and the girl and her skunk are in full color. It is beautiful and intriguing and so highly effective in mood and attention.
This book gets so many stars from me, and also my kids. It is not preachy. The tone is slightly distanced and narrative in style. It works, especially in combination with the illustrations. I highly recommend this book. It is beautiful in form and especially the message.
And I know I am not the first to notice and adore the connection between the famous vintage photo of the little girl and elephant pull-toy standing beneath a similar sign. It is iconic and perfect picture book fodder. Well done, Lisa Mantchev.