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

Wednesday 7 February 2024

Review: Elephant Island

Arnold loves the sea, as his ancient ancestors reportedly did. He spends much of his time seafaring, viewing the sea as his friend. 

Until one day, his friend grows wild and unfriendly and Arnold’s boat is sunk.

Thanks to providence and an inbuilt snorkel, Arnold encounters a tiny island on which he takes refuge, all alone in the wide, wide sea. 

From his tiny island, he launches an SOS attempt. And waits, content to explore his island until help arrives. Miraculously, it does in the shape a small ship, a mouseboat. Salvation!

But no. The disparity in size and enthusiasm result in disaster. Luckily Arnold, being a resourceful mariner type, applies his vast knowledge of knots and such sea-like things to salvage the situation and by this, I mean, adding an extension to accommodate him and his new friend on his tiny island.

Days drift by as do a squadron of other seagoing folk including an old sea dog, a fishing boat, a cargo ship and a steam paddleboat to name but a few. All steering a course for Elephant Island where the architecture and joie de vivre are reputedly phenomenal. Before long, the island is transformed into a jolly, multilayered, carnival-esque place-to-be.

But Arnold’s erstwhile friend, the sea, once again arcs up in anger, ostensibly against him having so much fun with his newfound friends. Wild winds and dark skies soon dismantle the island sanctuary leaving his mates adrift and Arnold forlorn. Perhaps it is time to go home once and for all?

This translation of the original Leo Timmers text, Het eiland van Olifant, is a splendid exploration of stoicism, friendship and creative initiative cloaked in a wickedly witty wonderful nautical tale. Arnold is the epitome of stalwart tenacity. He is accommodating and ingenious, sincere and fun loving, characteristics that any enterprising youngster can immediately warm to.

Notions of never giving up and patience are playfully disguised in joyous palettes awash with bright primary colours against a memorising sea of greens and teals, except of course when the sea is angry. I especially took heart in Arnold’s expressions of resignation, bliss and undiluted innocence. I mean who wouldn’t want to build a treehouse on a pebble of an island and invite their menagerie of mates to frolic with them within?

Experience the simple joy of it all in this sublime encounter and discover for yourself the true silver lining to be found in any cloud of adversity or … shipwreck. Pure magic.

Elephant Island
Author Illustrator: Leo Timmers
Translator: James Brown
Publisher: Gecko Press (Walker Books), $27.99
Publication Date: September 2022
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781776574346
For ages: 4 – 7
Type: Picture Book