The Third Elephant by Penny Dolan

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The Third Elephant by Penny Dolan

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A small wooden elephant triumphs over adversity to help children who are shy, have something to prove or are just angry. An excellent story with a gentle moral. Definitely recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1406300826

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High on a shelf in a dusty room sat three wooden elephants. The two largest elephants wanted only a quiet life but the third elephant looked down on a miniature marble palace which stood on the top of the piano and wondered if there wasn't more to life. When the house is demolished the elephants are thrown out of the window and the third elephant's adventures begin when he falls – quite literally - into Sara's hands.

Sara plays the flute. In fact she plays it rather well and is in competition to play in the Celebration Concert, but she's rather nervous. It's only the third elephant's calm common sense which wins the day for her, so when her sister, Nita, is nervous about a cycling trip to India the thoughtful and generous Sara tucks the third elephant into her bag.

Oh, what a lovely story this is. I fell for that little wooden elephant the moment I met him even though he was rather dusty and neglected. Sara's Nanji, her grandmother, cleaned him up and oiled him so that he looked smart and proud. They're a close family. Nanji's son, Sanjit, was killed in an accident when Sara was small but Nanji, her daughter-in-law and the two grandchildren live together. The women are both professionals and the children talented. The home gives a feeling of welcoming warmth and security which even a little sisterly bickering can't spoil.

It's when the elephant gets to India that his adventures really begin and the words are so evocative that I could just about smell the country. The elephant gives Nita confidence to do what everyone knew that she could do all along. I'm not going to tell you what happens in India or how we come to meet Jack – you'll have to read the book to find out, but it's a wonderful story. My heart was in my mouth on a couple of occasions! Even an adult reading this book will find that there's plenty to think about with a plot that has plenty of twists and turns and a thoughtful tying up of all the lose ends.

There's a rather neat device in the book. As the elephant travels he encounters various mice and even a rat, who all have messages which have been passed on to them and which they have to deliver to the elephant. It could have been twee, but there's sufficient variety (and some quirky illustrations by Helen Craig) to lift the idea above the ordinary and provide an interesting link throughout the book.

There's a gentle exploration of the hopes, fears and uncertainties of the children in the book. Most readers won't be going on cycle rides in India, or playing the flute at the Royal Albert Hall but they will remember occasions when they've felt less than confident and the book's calm reassurance can only help. Definitely recommended.

I'd like to thank the author for sending the book to The Bookbag.

With Penny's agreement I sent the book on to my grandchildren who live in Sweden. They're six to nine years old and the eldest child enjoyed reading the book on his own and suggested to his father that it would make a good bedtime story for all three of them. Their father read it to them over a few nights and it was greatly enjoyed by them all - and my son-in-law says that it's the best children's book that he's read to the family.

I particularly enjoyed the wild life in The Third Elephant and it reminded me of Akimbo and the Snakes by Alexander McCall Smith. For more stories about elephants we can recommend Imvula: Child of the Rain by Mark Gillies.

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Buy The Third Elephant by Penny Dolan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Third Elephant by Penny Dolan at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Third Elephant by Penny Dolan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Third Elephant by Penny Dolan at


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