'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Review: Elephants Have Wings

At a time in our history when there should be no child that suffers comes this powerful picture book by the accomplished team of Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

Based partly on the ancient parable the Blind Men and the Elephant, this outstanding work is suffused with elegance, immense spirit and a beauty that young children will recognise and draw from even if they are not able to comprehend the complexities that lie within each page.

 
My daughter was nine when she first read it and stated, ‘It is great out of the box thinking isn’t it? I mean, who would have thought that elephants could fly.’ Indeed, capturing the essence of the blind men and the elephant in a picture book is one thing. Exhibiting it with such exquisite heart and sensitivity as the team of Gervay and Pignataro do is higher than commendable.

The journey of discovery begins one night as two young siblings beg their father for a bedtime tale. This particular night he tells their grandfather’s story, thus spanning the generations. From his recount, we learn of a group of children from varying cultural backgrounds intent on going out one dark night in search of a secret. 

They each find part of something, each certain they are right in their assumption of what it is, each unwilling to accept that their interpretation of their discovery whilst subjectively correct in one instance could also be part some bigger picture. They ‘argued until everyone was angry’ – my favourite line in the book, also one of the most disparagingly accurate of observations. It is not until grandfather appears with his candlelight that the children discover that each of them ‘was right, but also wrong’ and the magnificent elephant is revealed.

But what of the secret? As brother and sister embark upon the elephant’s sturdy back and soar with him over the many glorious fabrics of their world, they come to appreciate not only the beauty that surrounds them but also the cracks that threaten that beauty, until finally they arrive home, conscious now of their differences and sameness.


The subtle nuances so intricately and delicately woven into this creation are numerous. Pignataro’s textured, collaged illustrations, lift and transport, defying gravity and borders. They convey a rich tapestry of multiculturalism, religion, and ultimately, Nirvana – a divine realisation of self and the ability to see past fear, a call to reach out for harmony. The use of the colours of the Chakra, of pages drained of any pigment and then restored, provide reasons to clutch tightly to life, ride out derision, to hope – to forge forward.

Gervay’s impossibly expressive narrative articulates confusion, discord, reconciliation, and understanding, prompting young readers to ponder and question all that which they see (and hear) around them. 

To paraphrase the words of George R R MartinJust open your eyes… is all that is needing. The eyes see true…then comes the thinking and in that knowing the truth.’

Supremely brave, eloquent and masterful, Elephants Have Wings will initiate discussion over many shared readings and is something to treasure and grow with. This is the second rendition of Elephants Have Wings (read our original KBR review, here). This new edition includes a fascinating foreword - The Meaning Within - which encourages young readers to seek out the rich symbolism secreted throughout every page. The Meaning Within is a useful addition offering more information about the main character, our flying white elephant, and deeper explanation of the parable behind the story themes of inclusion, acceptance, and renewal.

A visual and sensual feast.

Title: Elephants Have Wings
Author: Susanne Gervay
Illustrator: Anna Pignataro
Publisher: Flying Elephant Media, $ 24.99
Publication Date: April 2018
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9780648203506
For ages: 4+
Type: Picture Book



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