Strictly No Elephants written by Lisa Mantchev & illustrated by Taeeun Yoo – Review by Darshana Khiani
Strictly No Elephants written by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo is a book that is so, so important especially in our current climate. The story is about “fitting in” and inclusivity and it’s done in the most charming way through a boy and his pet elephant. I love this book both as a picture book reader and writer.
The story starts off with a great opening line, one of my all-time favorites.
“The trouble with having a tiny elephant for a pet is that you never quite fit in.”
Doesn’t that line make you want to turn the page and find out ‘why’? Why doesn’t the boy and his tiny elephant fit in? What exactly do they want to fit into? On the next spread, we get the answer to the first question, as we get to peek into the apartment windows and see what type of pet each kid has. It turns out having a tiny elephant is a non-traditional pet. The sweet, thoughtful first-person narration is absolutely endearing as we see the magic of friendship between the boy and his tiny elephant as they help each other out. The repetitive refrain “That’s what friends do: …” is precious and helps solidify the pair’s relationship. The elephant isn’t just a pet but a friend.
Let’s sit on that for a minute. A friend. A friend to love and care for and be loved and cared by. The author brilliantly has the reader in that warm and fuzzy place. When BAM you are hit with the reality (and you remember the title and cover page) that elephants are not allowed in the pet club. So even though it’s the elephant that is being rejected, it feels like it’s a friend that is being rejected. How horrible is that? Luckily our boy protagonist is one that we can all aspire to. He is a true friend and finds the perfect, heart-warming solution by starting a pet club after meeting a girl who has a pet skunk. I love the wordless spread showing the other kids with their non-traditional pets joining in. This beautifully conveys the message that you are not alone in your loneliness and that whatever you are feeling other people are too. The story ends on a note of inclusivity, as a girl from the other pet club peeks into the clubhouse and a sign says “All Are Welcome.”
The author and illustrator have done an amazing job with getting the reader to connect with the boy and elephant duo from the authentic first person voice to the colorful roundish characters. I absolutely adored seeing all the non-traditional pets. But my favorite part is the HEART of this book about fitting in. It’s a theme that any aged reader can relate too. Whether it’s feeling excluded because you don’t have the right skin color, the right clothes, or in this case the right pet. We are all looking to ‘fit in’. So, share this book and song with your kids, your students, your parents, your friends and let’s make the world a better place for everyone.
Darshana Khiani is a computer engineer by day and a children’s writer by night. She writes humorous multicultural picture books and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette at EMLA. You can find her blogging at http://www.flowering-minds.com.