Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Review: The Ant and the Elephant by Bill Peet

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good morals that flow from story and characters; great pictures
Cons: None
The Bottom Line
Ants and elephants
Show the best way to behave
In fun picture book

Everybody Needs Help, but Who Will Give It?

Bill Peet was a Disney animator turned children’s picture book author.  His books are filled with wonderful illustrations and stories of animal characters learning valuable lessons.  Not that the lessons are ever preachy but flow out of the story.  The Ant and the Elephant may be the most moralistic of his books, but it’s also one of my favorites.

One day, an ant falls into a stream and starts to be carried down river.  Fortunately, he catches himself on a twig sticking out of the water.  He appeals to a turtle for help, but the turtle is too busy and takes off, only to accidentally flip himself over.  He appeals to a bird for help, but the bird only mocks him, knocking an egg out of her nest in the process.  And so it goes before a giraffe, and lion, and a rhino are in trouble.

Then along comes a kind hearted elephant who takes time to help all the creatures.  Will any of them appreciate it?  And who will help him when he needs it?

I remember as a kid slightly too old for these books (we discovered them for my younger brother, but I often read aloud to him) how much this book reminded me of the Aesop fable about the lion and the mouse.  But rereading it as an adult, I was reminded of another story, this one from the Bible.  At one point, Jesus heals 10 lepers, but only one comes back to thank him. 

As long as we’re talking about morals, there’s also the issue of pride since that’s the elephant’s downfall (literally).

Obviously, there are plenty of moral lessons here, and it’s not that hard to spot them.  But never once does the book stop and preach.  It says nothing about the ungrateful animals, just let’s their lack of manners speak for themselves.  And since their selfish attitudes have been established early on, their actions all flow out of their character.  Still, parents can certain use it as examples of good and bad behavior.

The story is fun; each new predicament is a logical predicament for the animal, and I can easily imagine kids wanting to know what will happen next.

Each page has about four lines of text on it, and the rest is filled with one of Bill Peet’s drawings.  They are rich in color and very realistic with still some hints of personality to the characters, especially their face.  His years of working of Disney obviously provided a good background for his books.  The story is told is prose, not poetry.  Some of the vocabulary might be a bit over the heads of beginning readers, but young kids should have no trouble if they book is read to them.

While all the moral lessons are important, ultimately The Ant and the Elephant is a fun story that will entertain kids.  And that’s what makes it such a winner.

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