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A Baby Elephant in the Wild: Caitlin O'Connell

Book: A Baby Elephant in the Wild
Author: Caitlin O'Connell
Photographs by: Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

A Baby Elephant in the Wild is a nonfiction picture book that conveys facts about elephants by telling the story, with photographs, of the early life of a baby elephant named Liza. It's not clear to me who named the elephant Liza, but an author's note indicates that the author was a researcher studying elephants in Namibia who happened to be nearby when Liza was born. In any event, the narrative device of focusing the story on Liza works well, turning what could have been a dry recitation of facts into an engaging story. 

I think that readers of A Baby Elephant in the Wild will find themselves thinking, as I did, "elephants are really cool." My own daughter, on her second read-aloud of the book, was eager to tell me that Liza could still stand underneath her mother's belly, that all of the elephants were part of Liza's extended family, and that the mothers form a circle to protect the babies from lions. These details stuck with her, perhaps because of the truly fabulous photos. 

Here are a couple of snippets from the text:

"In this desert, a baby elephant named Liza takes her first breath after growing inside her mother for almost two years.

Liza is born weighing 250 pounds, the size of a grown black bear. Her mother weighs about 8,000 pounds."


"And within a day, she is able to keep up with the rest of her family: her mother, and aunt, and older brother, and a female cousin."

This second quote illustrates how the author keeps a very specific focus on Liza. She's not just some placeholder - she's a baby who has a brother and a cousin. I think this will help kids to relate to the story. 

I did choose, spontaneously, to edit some of the later pages in reading this book aloud to my daughter. She is 3 1/2, and I'm not sure that she needs to know that elephants might not have enough food to survive in the wild, or that "poachers looking for either meat or ivory also threaten elephants". But that's obviously each parent's decision.

I do think, despite the universal appeal of elephants, that this would be a better book for elementary school kids than for preschoolers. It is fairly text-dense. A "Did you know?" page at the end of the book adds additional facts about elephants, perfect for feeding the hunger for information of a curious 7-year-old.  

A Baby Elephant in the Wild offers young readers an in-depth look at the lives of African elephants, with stunning visuals. As it's clearly designed to do, it leaves readers with a sense of wonder about elephants in general, and a feeling of familiarity towards Liza in particular. It would make a nice addition to any elementary school library, or to the home bookshelves of those with a particular affinity for animals. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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