The Roehampton Readers participated in the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenway Children’s Book Awards as a shadowing group. Meeting at Roehampton University to discuss the books, their reviews were then posted to the shadowing site itself. Over this summer, we are sharing a selection of the reviews with you as part of the ongoing activity here at NCRCL. The Roehampton Readers group was coordinated by NCRCL PhD student, Kay Waddilove.
Review: The Child’s Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston
By Lorna Collins
The Child’s Elephant begins with the seemingly charming story of Bat, a young boy living in a traditional African village and whose job it is to care for the family’s herd of cows. He is out with the cows one day, when he stumbles on the sight of an elephant being killed by poachers for its tusks. He later discovers a very young baby elephant that has been orphaned by the poachers. He enlists the help of his friend, Muka in rescuing and caring for the baby elephant, naming her Meya. The two children develop a bond with Meya and on the surface this is a very traditional tale of children befriending and caring for an orphaned wild animal. However, throughout the first part of the book, there are hints of lurking danger, with mention being made of children snatched away from home. We are never told directly where the story is set, but Campbell has stated that she drew on her knowledge of several places in Africa, and particularly Uganda, and Komo’s Lord’s Resistance Army. At the end of the first part of the book, Meya becomes a liability in the village, and Bat and Muka train her to go back into the wild, eventually leaving her with a herd of wild elephants. This would have made quite an enchanting story on its own, appealing as it does to a widespread wish among children for an animal friend.
The second part of the book has a much darker theme. Both Bat and Muka are captured whilst going about their daily tasks, and are taken to be trained as child soldiers. Lobo, who never quite fitted into the life of Bat’s village and now works at recruiting child soldiers, has spoken of Bat’s affinity with elephants, which is why he has been kidnapped. Bat befriends another child soldier, Gulu, who has obviously suffered severe trauma at the hands of his kidnappers, since he repeats the fact that he has done things no one could forgive him for. Although this is a very harsh topic for the subject of a children’s book, I felt it was sensitively dealt with and the extreme cruelty, whilst hinted at, is never openly written about.
The third part of the book completes the whole, bringing the now grown Meya back into the story, and giving it perhaps a happier ending than would be expected in a book written for an older audience.