Tua and the Elephant
Tua and the Elephant
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R.P. Harris, illus. by Taeeun Yoo
ISBN 9780811877817
Chronicle Books, 2012.
5 stars
Keywords: animal-abuse community elephants harris thailand tua-and-elephant

Tua and the Elephant
by R.P. Harris, illus. by Taeeun Yoo

With this enchanting first novel, R.P. Harris plunges readers into Chiang Mai, Thailand, as seen through the eyes of 10-year-old Tua (Thai for "peanut").

Chiang Mai might be a town bustling with crowds of farangs ("creature[s] from a foreign land"), buses and taxis, but Tua knows everyone in the night market by name, and they in turn look after their "little peanut." One night, Tua finds an elephant just outside the night market and feels an instant connection. She senses that it's unhappy, and follows the elephant. She discovers that its mahouts, the people who are meant to take care of it, are in fact mistreating the animal. She hatches a plan to free the elephant, but what then?

Harris invents a resourceful, intelligent heroine who chooses her allies well, and introduces readers to a tight community that aids Tua in her mission but never takes it over. The author gently raises the plight of Asian elephants, which are often taken from the wild to be exploited for profit. But the bond between Tua and the elephant drives the action. Taeeun Yoo (The Little Red Fish), in her gold and purple illustrations, is as adept at scenes of the marketplace as she is at conveying the intimate connection between Tua and her newfound four-legged friend.

The plentiful artwork, generous white space and short chapters will invite budding readers, and the sprinkling of Thai words make this a strong read-aloud choice.

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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