The Child's Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston

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The Child's Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Anne Thompson
Reviewed by Anne Thompson
Summary: A wonderfully written story about the bond between a child and an animal, this unforgettable debut novel also tells the reader much about traditional African culture and the horror of the lives of child soldiers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 390 Date: May 2013
Publisher: David Fickling Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857560766

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Shortlisted for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal

Bat, a young herdsman living on the African savannah, witnesses the killing of an elephant by poachers and then takes her orphaned baby back to his village and cares for her. Gradually the two become inseparable and Meja, the baby elephant, becomes part of village life, loved by all the villagers but especially by Bat and his best friend, Mukah. As time passes Bat’s grandmother warns the two children that the elephant will have to return to the wild and the herd to which she belongs. Reluctantly the two friends learn to accept this truth but they have no idea that their bond with this animal will be strong enough to survive both distance and terrifying events.

This is very much a book of two halves. In the first section of the novel Rachel Campbell-Johnston beautifully conveys life in a traditional African village, both the relationships between Bat, his grandmother and his friends and also the sights, smells, tastes and colours of his world. The tale of Bat and his friendship with Meya up until her return to the wild is almost a story in itself. There is a very gentle pace to this part of the story and it is in sharp contrast to the second part of the book when Bat is kidnapped by the rebel army and forced to train as a child solider. The country itself is never named but the knowledge of the author is apparent. As a journalist Campbell-Johnston has travelled extensively in Africa and interviewed child soldiers about their lives and this background gives the book an authentic feel.

The impact of what happens to Bat is all the more dramatic due to the way we have gradually formed a relationship with him as he grows up in his village. As Bat and Mukah struggle to cope with, at times, harrowing events the reader feels compelled to accompany them. Their determination not be brought down to the level of those around them is very moving and I think it would be impossible not to care what happens to these two characters. Thankfully there is a happy ending which I think young readers would need as it provides a feeling of hope despite what has taken place.

As is often the way with a very good book, reading this left me wanting to find out more about both the place and the background to this story. This would possibly be the same for children too. If young readers are put off by the length of the book at approaching 400 pages and the leisurely pace at the start I think it would be a shame. This is an extraordinary book and I would not be at all surprised to see this receiving many accolades in the future.

I would like to thank the people at David Fickling Books for sending a copy of this book to the Bookbag.

Younger readers may enjoy discovering about life in Africa by reading Akimbo and the Snakes by Alexander McCall Smith. Another good book dealing with social problems set in Africa is Torn Pages by Sally Grindley.

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Booklists.jpg The Child's Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston is in the Top Ten Books for Confident Readers 2013.


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