It’s been a rainy spring in the northeastern US. I’ve found myself reaching again and again for my umbrella – a common response of people all over the world when it rains. A common response, I’d wager, in Iran, too, the country in which both the author and illustrator of today’s Perfect Picture Book live:
Title: The Elephant’s Umbrella
Written By: Laleh Jaffari
Illustrated By: Ali Khodai
Translated By: Azita Rassi
Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2017 (first published by Chekkeh Publishers, Iran)
Suitable for Ages: 3-8
Themes/Topics: sharing, elephants, umbrella, empathy, Iran, translated Picture Book
The elephant loved his umbrella. Whether it drizzled or poured, he’d open his umbrella and walk into the rain, proud to ask anybody he saw to join him under it.
Brief Synopsis: The elephant loves and shares his umbrella. But when she’s whisked from his grasp, the umbrella ends up in the hands of less-generous creatures, a leopard and a bear.
Links to Resources:
- Make and decorate a paper-plate umbrella; better yet, make two and share one with a friend;
- Explore Iran, where both the author and illustrator live;
- The leopard and brown bear in the story both want to eat under the umbrella. Host an umbrella picnic and serve weather-related foods: sun-colored grilled cheese sandwiches or lemon cookies or maybe raindrop blueberries;
- See more illustrations from The Elephant’s Umbrella and other Iranian picture books in a 2015 gallery in The Guardian newspaper.
Why I Like this Book:
The Elephant’s Umbrella is a lovely story of sharing and generosity that, I think, will appeal to the youngest of listeners. I found the jungle scenes bright and engaging, and I think kids and parents will enjoy them, too.
Unlike other sharing books that posit sharing as a win for the recipient with the donor sacrificing something (think Rainbow Fish giving its beautiful scales to others), The Elephant’s Umbrella presents sharing as a win-win situation: when the Elephant invites other creatures to sit under the umbrella with him, he stays dry and he gains friends. He shows, in a sense, that by cooperating, we help not only ourselves, but we make the pie bigger, so that all can benefit.
A Note about Craft:
At first glance, The Elephant’s Umbrella is a simple story of sharing. From the title and opening lines, it seems clear: a caring Elephant has an umbrella, loses her (Jaffari uses the feminine pronoun) to a leopard and then to a bear, and finally gets her back. But how? Did either the leopard or bear steal her? And who is the main character anyway?
In a brilliant twist that’s a lesson for authors, the umbrella is the star of this story. When the wind blows her away from the elephant, the umbrella asks first the leopard and then the bear of their plans. Becoming aware of their pride and greediness, the umbrella asks the wind to “take me with you!”
By flipping the story in this way, I think Jaffari adds another layer to what could have been a very simple story. It causes me to wonder how seemingly inanimate objects or non-human creatures, like natural resources or animals, feel when misused or mistreated, whether on the playground or in the wider world. I think this opens up great discussion possibilities with kids who so often anthropomorphise pets, toys, or other objects.
Tiny Owl Publishing is “an independent publishing company committed to producing beautiful, original books for children.” Tiny Owl publishes “a range of books from Iranian authors and illustrators,” including When I Coloured in the World, which I reviewed in April 2017.
Per a review in Outside in World, “Iranian author Laleh Jaffari is an author, translator and TV director and has written 25 children’s books. Iranian illustrator Ali Khodai…has illustrated over 80 books and has won many national awards in his home country of Iran.”
The Elephant’s Umbrella is available for purchase in the US with free shipping via the Book Depository.
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!