|Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and Their Rescue From Captivity.
Rob Laidlaw. Art by Brian Deines.
Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.
Review by Meredith Cleversey.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
The zoo in Toronto was nothing like southern Africa. The ground was hard and dry, and uncomfortable on their feet. The enclosure was too small to roam about, so without enough exercise, the elephants gradually became weaker and out of shape. And it was cold in the winter, too frigid for elephants used to the warm sun of southern Africa. Like other zoo elephants before them, the three friends were showing signs of ill health. When she got older, Iringa even had trouble lying down and standing up on her own. People began to worry that Toka, Iringa, and Thika might not live past their early forties, which is just past middle age for a wild African elephant.
Elephant Journey tells the true story of the relocation of three elephants from the Toronto Zoo to an animal sanctuary in California. Toka, Thika, and Iringa lived in confined spaces in the Toronto Zoo. They hardly moved and were suffering from poor health. When the decision was made to move these animals from Toronto to the PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society) sanctuary in California, there were a lot of questions and concerns. But after an incredible journey riding in the backs of transport trucks, the three elephants successfully made it to their new home.
Author Rob Laidlaw is an animal activist, and his knowledge of the elephants’ conditions before, during, and after their relocation is apparent in Elephant Journey. The text is written as a nice story, with a lot of interesting details surrounding the relocation included, such as explaining how special cameras were installed in the flatbed trucks so experts could monitor the elephants during the long drive to California. At the end of the book, there are also several pages with facts about elephants and real photos of the journey these specific elephants took. There is a good amount of quality information in this book, making it a great resource for this topic. However, the tale’s narrative flows well enough that readers will enjoy Elephant Journey simply for the story, itself, as well.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding nearly all aspects of the decision to relocate these elephants, but Laidlaw has omitted these details in favour of telling a positive story focussing on the ultimate happy ending these creatures were given. There is no blame placed on any party for the conditions the elephants were in while in Toronto. The true purpose of this mission was to ensure that the elephants were living the happy, healthy lives they deserved, and Laidlaw tells a version of the events which focuses on this important aspect.
The illustrations by Brian Deines are lovely additions to Elephant Journey. Done as oil paintings and inspired by actual footage of the elephants’ trip, the illustrations mirror the text in the positive, honest way they depict the central characters. Soft colours and hues of grey, purple, and yellow are prominent, and small details, like the slight upwards curve of an elephant’s mouth to suggest a happy smile at being in its new home, add a whimsical touch to the otherwise grounded story.
While the happy ending Laidlaw describes in Elephant Journey may have been true at the time of writing, this book is, unfortunately, already slightly outdated. The final page of the tale is written in present tense, stating that all three elephants are enjoying their new home. Sadly, since writing the story, one of the elephants, Iringa, has passed away. While her death is acknowledged in the book’s back section, the story, itself, is presented as if all three elephants are still alive and well. Parents or teachers will want to be familiar with this extra bit of unfortunate information so they are able to share the complete story with young readers.
Nevertheless, Elephant Journey is an important book. For those who grew up with the elephants at the zoo, for those who only visited Toko, Thika, and Iringa once or twice, or for those who have never had (and may never have) a chance to experience the elephant exhibit in Toronto, this book is a worthwhile read. It’s a positive look at the decisions made by activists in both Canada and the US to help the elephants live a happier and healthier life, and it’s an fascinating look at the incredible journey the elephants made to reach their new home in California.
Meredith Cleversey is a librarian in Cambridge, ON. She loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.