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

Friday 3 April 2020

Review: Mum's Elephant

I love a powerful picture book, and I love a quiet picture book. But I really love a quiet and powerful picture book, and Mum’s Elephant is a brilliant example.

This is a book that isn’t easy to forget, even though the story is simple and it’s not trying to convey a big message. 

It's about family, memories, the small things in life and the things that make us who we are.

Mum's Elephant follows a girl and the things she remembers about her childhood.

The girl remembers her siblings playing, the damper her mother would make and her mother’s one treasured item: an elephant.

The girl remembers a lot about the elephant — how her mother held it tight, how it brought joy to gatherings of friends and how she and her siblings got in trouble if they didn’t handle it with care.

The elephant is not what you might think, and you won’t find out what it is until the end, which makes this a delightful story for kids, who are sure to enjoy guessing what the elephant is throughout the story.

But what I reflect on after reading this story is that is doesn’t really matter what the elephant is. This story is about the things we hold dear and how the relationships we have with these things shape who we are and who our families are. 

When I think about it, my own mother had an ‘elephant’. It isn’t the same elephant as the one in this story, but it is an object that I associate with my mother and my family — something that has now become a part of me and a memory that can never be forgotten. 

Mum's Elephant is also a story about the bush — about culture, diversity and history. But these things aren’t obvious story threads. They are delicate tendrils woven through the book, there to pull out and discuss with readers when you and they are ready. 

Debut author Maureen Jipyiliya Nampijinpa O’Keffe has created something truly magical. This is a story that makes you feel. It makes you remember, and that is a very powerful thing. Christina Booth’s illustrations, too, add to the magic — the red dirt, the smoke from a campfire, the shadows from the trees that play over blankets as Mum lies in the shade. Stunning details that bring the story to life.

The back of the book says this is a story of a very special elephant, but I think it’s more than that. For me, this is the story of a very special memory and the power that our past and our memories have on shaping who we are. 

 I highly recommend that you find yourself a copy and experience the magic for yourself.

For more books beautifully illustrated (and some written) by Christina Booth, check out SpiritOne Careless Night, Are These Hen's Eggs? and The Gum Family Finds Home.

Title: Mum's Elephant
Author: Maureen Jipyiliya Nampijinpa O’Keffe
Illustrator: Christina Booth
Publisher: Magabala Books, $17.99
Publication Date: 1 April 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781925936728
For ages: 3+
Type: Picture Book