The Elephant is a skilfully and sensitively told story which approaches grief and mental health in a manner that is both touching and comforting. Peter Carnavas has made it possible for children to observe the healing power of kindness and love in a poignant yet genuinely endearing book. A brave little girl trying to put back together the broken pieces of her family. A small book brimming with love and hope.
Olive is worried about her father. More specifically she is worried about the big grey elephant that follows him everywhere. It stands over her father at the kitchen breakfast table, leaves with him for work and trudges behind him when he comes home. The elephant weighs her father down with sadness and the weight of that sadness spreads over Olive too. She wishes that the elephant would go away. When she confides in her best friend Arthur he knows the answer to the problem immediately. They must get rid of the elephant. But Olive does not know where to start.
I read this beautiful book in one sitting and as I read the lump in my throat grew bigger. This is a profoundly affecting story and yet not a depressing one. It takes skill to take a subject such as grief and depression and make it both understandable and relatable to young children and this treasure of a story does that beautifully. Each short chapter reveals a little more about the reason for Olive’s father’s sadness and the effect the death of Olive’s mother has had on this little family. Each of them is dealing with the loss in different ways. Her wise and funny Grandad has joined Olive and her father and takes over the care of his granddaughter with dedication. From the lovingly prepared packed lunches to the interesting exploratory walks when he collects Olive from school it is Grandad who provides the stability and the colour in her life.
There is a gentleness and warmth in the writing that is profoundly touching. Despite the sadness the relationships between the different generations of the family are loving and positive as is the friendship between Olive and Arthur. The little touches giving a glimpse of life at school and the detail of the walks Olive and Grandad take ‘side by side’ encourage a growing feeling of understanding and the development of a friendship with these characters. The reader, or this one at least, truly cares about them.
The short chapters, the charming illustrations so perfectly complementing the story, and the narrative voice all combine to make this an accessible and appealing book for children. Although mental health, grief and depression are difficult subjects to discuss this is a perfect book for addressing these issues for young readers. It would be applicable to depression or sadness brought about by other situations too and Olive is an inspiring little person for children to identify with. The plot is carefully constructed to give moments of joy and the ending is simply perfect. I loved this book very much, it is wise and kind and is the sort of book that could make a difference to its readers.
I should like to thank Poppy Stimpson and Pushkin Press for providing my review copy. The Elephant was published in the UK on 28th January and is available to purchase online at Waterstones or via your nearest independent bookshop which can be found on this map.
This week marks Children’s Mental Health Week and publication of The Elephant is perfectly timed to coincide with this. There is more information for parents and schools available on the official website.
There were some aspects of this story that reminded me a little of Felix After the Rain a beautiful picture book that also deals with mental health in a kind and thoughtful manner.