PPBF: Elephant in the Dark

A few weeks ago I reviewed Two Parrots in honor of Persian New Year. While researching activities for that post, I discovered another holiday I knew nothing about: the Sikh holiday of Vaisakhi, also called Baisakhi, celebrated each year on 14 April. This harvest festival is celebrated throughout the Punjab region of India and by Sikhs worldwide. Interestingly, I found no picture books featuring Sikh stories or this holiday. If you know of any, please mention them in the comments.


9780545636704_p0_v1_s118x184Title: Elephant in the Dark

Retold By: Mina Javaherbin, based on a poem by Rumi

Illustrated By: Eugene Yelchin

Publisher/date: Scholastic Press, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Folktale; Fable; Elephants

Opening: “Merchant Ahmad had brought a mysterious creature all the way from India! The news spread fast through the village. What could the huge beast be?”

Brief Synopsis: When a merchant brings an unknown beast to the village and houses it in a darkened barn, everyone tries to guess what it is, and what it’s similar to, based on small sections of the animal.

Links to Resources:

  • Read more about Vaisakhi and color pages of Vaisakhi symbols and festivities including bhangra dancing, wheat for the harvest, and lions.
  • Fly a kite: a popular Vaisakhi activity.
  • Play 20 questions or another guessing game, such as discovering what’s in a closed box (based on shape and sound), or with eyes closed, touching one part of an object and trying to guess what it is.
  • Listen to Bhangra music and try a Bhangra dance – for ideas, check out the many youtube videos.

Why I Like this Book: This story is such a visual reminder to beware a tendency that many people share (myself included): to jump to conclusions without all of the evidence and then ignore evidence that doesn’t support those initial conclusions. Rumi’s fable is brought to life by Mina Javaherbin, an American immigrant born in Iran, and through the vibrant illustrations of Eugene Yelchin, also an American immigrant. In the end notes, Mr. Yelchin wrote,

       “I became an artist in Russia during the time when information was routinely obscured or distorted by the government. And that is why I so eagerly embraced the opportunity to illustrate this book. The importance of seeing the complete picture instead of groping for bits and pieces of it in the dark resonated deeply with me.”

I think this folktale will resonate on many levels with readers and listeners as well.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

5 responses to “PPBF: Elephant in the Dark

  1. Rumi is one of my favorite poets. I like the idea of a picture based on his fable with an important message. The illustrations look colorful and fun,

  2. I love that the reader knows what animal was brought home, but the characters in the story don’t. I’m curious what they think it is.

    • The villagers all have different views, depending on which part of the elephant they touched: trunk, leg, ear, tail, etc. I found that if I closed my eyes and imagined touching the parts described, their conclusions made sense – until the whole animal was visible.

  3. Hi Patricia,
    Thank you for the review of this book! It reminds me of an older tale about blind men and an elephant. I’m glad to see there is an updated version to share and compare with my students! The older one was published in 1992 and is titled The Blind Men and The Elephant by Karen Backstein and Annie Mitra. I really enjoy your book reviews!

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