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4.6 out of 5 stars
The Child's Elephant
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Rachel Campbell-Johnston's new book, The Child's Elephant, is a triumphantly vivid adventure story which has many different layers. First, it's up there with the best children's adventure stories as a cracking good narrative which will keep both children and adults alike turning the pages. It opens with a great "set-piece" scene in which poachers shoot a mother elephant, leaving a baby elephant to fend for itself. The baby is found by Bat, a young herdsboy, who takes her to live with him and his brilliant grandmother. With the help of his friend, a girl Muka, and the fellow villagers, he brings up the elephant, Meya. But there is real tension because as he bonds with Meya, it becomes clear that the elephant is a wild animal who will never be domesticated. At some point, the beloved Meya will leave Bat. The suspense is ratcheted up a notch when it becomes clear that the peaceful village may well be attacked by soldiers who are snatching child to train for the military. The climatic parts of the novel is genuinely nail-biting. Will Bat and Muka survive in this terrifying world? What will happen to Meya?

As I've said, the novel has layers because while it operates as a realistic adventure story, it has many of the qualities of the best fables. The world Campbell-Johnston evokes is both specific and timeless; the scenes involving wildlife ring with authenticity, while the world of the village feels both genuine but non-specific. Countries are not mentioned. The author paints a convincing, grounded idyll in her portrait of the village, and has depicted some very nasty, believable antagonists in the form of the soldiers. The story is really about the ways in which modernity destroys life with its obsession with militaristic ways of thinking. The narrative amounts to a plea to give children back their childhoods by allowing them to play freely, to roam where they want, to interact with and learn to love the natural world, and to live the life of the imagination. Campbell-Johnston's previous book was an evocative, scholarly biography of the Romantic artist Samuel Palmer. On the surface, a completely different type of book and topic. But one can see common threads though; the magical landscapes she evokes in this novel have the luminosity of Palmer's paintings. This is particularly the case near the end of the book -- but I won't give the ending away!!

I loved this story so much I decided to buy some copies at my own expense to teach my pupils at the comprehensive where I teach.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2013
A fantastic book that R C J should be proud of. A interesting book that shows the real nature of elephants.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 20 June 2013
I couldn't put this book down. I only thought I would read a few pages to see what I was giving my goddaughter... but I was completely gripped! I've never been to Africa but I could smell it. Exciting heartwarming story in beautiful prose.
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on 6 April 2014
Just like an elephant's trunk, this book can touch you with delicacy and gentleness one minute, and assault your senses and emotions the next. A powerful tale, it is brand new but steeped in timelessness, like the forests and savannah in which the story unfolds. Its violent opening scenes are soon eclipsed by the warm and innocent account of animal friendship between the boy Bat and his rescued elephant, Meya. But that bloody beginning augurs more brutality in parts two and three, when Bat and his childhood friend, Muka, are wrenched from their home and drawn into a savage guerrilla war.

The book explores the whole idea of what makes a "home" and how the past contains and defines us. Beautifully written and paced, reading it is like going on one of the elephant journeys it describes - sometimes you tread peacefully through sentences filled with exotic nouns and colours like gems, while at other moments your heart races as the story rushes onwards, charging with urgent action.

I read it because I thought I should, as it was nominated for the Carnegie Book Award (2014). I found it compelling, full of vivid descriptions evoking scenes both extraordinary and horribly familiar from years of reports of African civil war and drought on TV. And yet, I wonder if the book, especially the gentleness of part one, can lure in the target audience of - presumably - teenagers? I hope it can, for it's a hugely rewarding read, and deserves the best, most open-minded readers.
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on 24 December 2013
This book is enchantingly written; Rachel Campbell Johnston describes in vivid detail the surroundings of the characters: the book seems to transport you inside its pages so that you can see, hear and smell the sights, sounds and flavours of their lives. The story is beautifully told, with eloquently expressive language that conveys the feelings and emotions, the joys and sorrows of Bat and Muka and Meya - and really every character, each of whom seems to have their own essential part to the story.

The most wonderful thing that can happen to someone when reading a book, is that, after having read it, you feel as if the story has always been with you, and that you could never find anything like it, and that is what The Child's Elephant does. It is an incredibly moving, heartfelt, deeply sad and uplifting tale of friendship, told in the most gloriously touching way, and it will stay with you long after you have closed the book.
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on 2 December 2013
This is a fabulous tale of war, adventure and love. Campbell-Johnston's lyrical prose beautifully evokes the African landscape and the people and wildlife who occupy it. The opening line quite literally fires the starting gun for a plot which never ceases to grip. The evil, cruelty and destruction of which humans are capable is skilfully balanced against the courage of two children, the vibrancy of village life and above all the tenderness of a boy and a girl's love for an elephant. A book for teenagers but one which this adult reviewer thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommends. A magnificent achievement.
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on 15 December 2014
I did like this book. Truly, I did, I loved Bat and Muka and Meya. But the thing I loved most was the language. Beautiful, rich words, painting a stunning rainbow world in my head. In fact, should the rest of the book have matched the wording, I would have no doubt given it four stars, maybe evn five. However, the plot was not gripping, the narrative painfully slow in parts, resulting in entire chapters being a bore. I would alays choose to read ther books over this, and had to drag myself away from other stories and force myself to finish the book. A great idea, just not my cup of tea.
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on 6 December 2013
This is my first review! I felt compelled to share the experience of reading this book with everybody. The Child's Elephant has to be one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read, well Done!! I have been reading it to my 10 year old, perhaps at times it was a little mature for him, and just truly heart breaking, but worth every step of their journey. We fell in love with the main characters. Wonderful read xx.
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on 15 May 2014
what a very thought provoking book. I am a great lover of Elephants and have seen them in the wild, the description of their lives and behaviour was so graphic I felt I was there. The poor children and what they went through was horrific. I am told this book is for children. No its for all age groups. I am a pensioner. I cried I could not put it down. will read again.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.5 stars.

"Bang!" An elephant is shot. Unusual start to a children's book, but reminiscent of Bambi, she leaves behind a newborn baby. Bat has been watching nearby and takes the baby home with him. He and his friend Muka struggle to feed it and keep it alive.

The book veers from where you expect though. Adults might be expecting a 'Born Free' emotive journey where the children must raise their calf, see it grow, teach it to live in the wild and finally let it go.

And while that's a big part of the story (and there's lots of fun to be had in elephant Meya's antics), the story darkens as villagers begin to talk of the child soldiers that are edging ever-closer. And eventually Bat and Muka's rural idyll cannot protect them from the cruelties of life.

This isn't one for sensitive young readers. The first half may lull you into a false sense of security, but be warned, Bat and Muka do experience fairly graphic (for the children's market) violence and psychological torture. It's shocking, saddening and upsetting. And well conveyed.

There's one major plot twist that I found very hard to believe, the plot resting on it but it was never explained how one character is able to be somewhere to come to the aid of the others. But that aside...

A debut work, the author has been nominated for various awards for The Child's Elephant, and rightly so. It had an excellent sense of location, some vivid characters, a plot that draws you in and suspense and humour combined.

Only for aged 10+ in my opinion, and adults will find this a good read too.
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