I absolutely respect and appreciate Rukhsana Khan and even my least favorite Ruqaya’s Bookshelf published book is still a good quality book, so I preordered this with such giddy delight. And yet, when I read it the first time, I didn’t get it. I put it away, pulled it out again weeks later and still wasn’t feeling it, I repeated this process over and over, and finally, I’ve resolved what I’ve always known: that it is ok not to love a book. It doesn’t mean I don’t still love and respect everyone involved, but alas, it just didn’t appeal to me. So, as always, I’m accountable for my thoughts and my thoughts only and you are free to disagree and argue with me, it isn’t personal, and I will try and point out good and problematic elements so that you can make your own decisions based on your preferences and see if the book would be a good addition to your shelves or not.
This hardback Muslim authored, Muslim illustrated anthropomorphized book takes the shape of a moral fable in which Elephant has no friends, attributes it to her appearance, forces the insects and animals around her to give her their eyes, waist, nose, arms etc., and then when they still don’t like her is persuaded by ant to return the body parts, apologize and be content to be ant’s friend.
My problem I think with the book is that it conflates appearance with friendship without a clear moral, and then Elephant being forced to change by Ant to have a friend seems to reinforce a questionable mindset, even if Ant is more or less in the right. There is no self reflection on the role of appearance, or what kindness looks and feels like, or even insight into what self confidence, friendship, and body appreciation entails. It lumps it all together, uses outside influences to get elephant a friend, but doesn’t really articulate any lessons learned or moral to be conveyed. If I am mistaken and the book is not set to be a moral inspired fable, the climatic joy of the book is simply, what- Do as you are told to have a friend?
The book starts out with the other animals questioning, but essentially bullying Elephant about her size, calling her big and awkward and wondering if she can even see or hear them. Elephant then looks in the mirror and picks herself apart, body part by body part. She tells Owl, who has beautiful eyes to switch with her. Owl doesn’t want to, Owl needs eyes to see, but the transaction occurs. Next up is Wasp, who has a tiny waist, then Mole with a star shaped nose, etc. The result is a bizarre looking “Elephant” and numerous unhappy, unable to move critters. Yes, they are all friends, size, nocturnal, predator, prey not brought in to consideration. The animals leave and Elephant is still friendless and feeling bad. Ant pipes up that he knows what should be done. Interestingly Elephant doesn’t want to listen because it is “just an ant.” Ant responds, “I have a million friends and I know how to be nice.” So now we are using appearance, having friends, and being nice as synonyms. Elephant agrees to listen, Ant forcefully convinces Elephant to give everything back and apologize. Ant agrees to go with Elephant, once the animals and insects get their body part back they race off in fear. Elephant is left back to normal but still with no friends when Ant says that he likes her. So, was Elephant really sorry? Did she learn to be nice? To be a friend? Did she want to give the parts back or did she do it so Ant would be her friend? Did she appreciate the function and beauty of her own body? So many loose ends that don’t show any growth, teach a moral, convey entertainment or joy, or make me get what the purpose was. It left me, and my children confused. And again, had we laughed along the way and been entertained, I wouldn’t need a character arc or lesson, but sadly we closed the book having not felt those feels at all.
When the cover was revealed I’ll admit I was intrigued by the texture and tone of the elephant, but for some reason the inside pages went from creepy with poignant intent, to a little disturbing, The body parts of the animals are removed and swapped and reaffixed with masking tape. I’m not opposed to slightly dark humor in children’s books, but I think this could really bother some younger kids that will dwell on the idea of body parts being taken unwillingly. The text is sparse and presumably the book is for younger readers, so consider this if your children are sensitive.
There is nothing religious or Islamic in the book, nor is their scientific elements to why the animals bodies are the way they are or for what purpose. It does not discuss environment or relationships in a non fiction manner. The clear large simple text would suggest the book is for 4-8 year olds.