Elephant Journey gets 4.5 stars

Alohamora Open a Book, October 26, 2016


Elephant Journey

Written by Rob Laidlaw, Illustrated by Brian Deines
ISBN: 978-1-927485-77-4

Did you know an elephant’s trunk has more than 60,000 muscles? This is just one of many things I learned from this fantastic book.

Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and their Rescue from Captivity by Rob Laidlaw is a great non-fiction picture book. That means it is a great book with true facts, but it reads like a story.

I give Elephant Journey 4.5 out of 5 Stars; to be honest that is a pretty impressive score from me. This book earned the high rating for its great illustrated pictures, shown above, and photographs, shown below, just before the index giving a more non-fiction layout kind of feel.

I actually really like the design of the book. I appreciate how the author and illustrator distinguished between the story and the nitty gritty details. The illustrated pictures tell the story of Toka, Thika, and Iringa, the three elephants and their journey out of captivity. The illustrations are beautiful. The real photograph section goes more in depth into how the elephants made the journey, how the elephants thrived after (there was a super sad part), fascinating facts about elephants, and why captivity is so hard on elephants.

Elephant Journey is a great book, and I see a lot of value in it. Though, from a reading level, interest level, and collection point of view I think this book is best suited for 4th- 6th grade (boys and girls alike), but older students could benefit with reading it and writing persuasive papers around the topic of elephants in captivity.

My one improvement for the book would be in regards to the back of the book layout. The layout would be more successful if it was a bit more spread out; at times it feels like the information is being crammed in there. I do like the boxes with elephant facts, but other facts were thrown other places as well. They had some good stuff, but it really could’ve been better.

In the ‘Acknowledgements’ section there is one line that lists a bunch of people that helped the animals move. In that section it lists the names and also ‘the author’ was included. If you weren’t sure who the author was you’d have to flip to the front of the book. I personally think ‘Rob Laidlaw, the author, …’ would’ve flowed better and been more effective.

All in all, it was a powerful, educational, and enjoyable book to read.

Just to get a bit more information I’ve included the book description that Amazon provides.

‘In 2013, people across North America were riveted by the story of Toka, Thika, and Iringa, the last three elephants at the zoo in Toronto, Ontario. Lonely for a larger herd, sick from the cold climate, and weak from standing for long days in a too-small concrete enclosure, the elephants desperately needed a change. The zoo and animal activists agreed that they should be moved to a healthier home, but the best option―the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in distant California―seemed like an impossible dream.

In Elephant Journey, leading activist and award-winning author Rob Laidlaw unfolds the journey of how that impossible dream was realized. In clear, straightforward prose, he describes the elephants’ experiences on the journey of three days and 4,100 kilometers that brought them to the sanctuary at last. Celebrated illustrator Brian Deines’ oil paintings, based on actual footage of the trip, provide an intimate window into the experiences of Toka, Thika, and Iringa as they braved their long road to a new life. Extensive back matter includes an index, photographs, and further information about this miraculous Elephant Journey.’

I received this great book from Myrick Marketing in exchange for my honest review. All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Happy Great Elephant Non-Fiction Picture Book Reading!

If you have an elephant lover in your life, or you want to learn more about elephants in captivity definitely check this book out.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Elephant Journey gets 4.5 stars

A Book Worth Reading reviews


Short reviews of several of Rob Laidlaw’s animal protection books.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on A Book Worth Reading reviews

No Shelter Here now out in Spanish


Available through regular booksellers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on No Shelter Here now out in Spanish

Elephant Journey Nominated for Red Cedar Book Award

Elephant Journey has been nominated in the 2016/2017 Red Cedar Book Award, Information Book category. To find out more about the Red Cedar program, this year’s winners and the complete list of next years nominees CLICK HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Elephant Journey Nominated for Red Cedar Book Award

Excellent SLJ review of Elephant Journey

School Library Journal – Elephant Journey “A great addition for lessons on wildlife and the ethics of zoos.” (June 2016)

Gr 2-4–The story of three zoo elephants and their journey to a new home. Toka, Thika, and Iringa were not thriving in the barren, small, and often frozen enclosure at the Toronto Zoo. When the zoo decided to send the unhappy pachyderms to another location, animal advocates spoke up and convinced officials to send the elephants to Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), a California animal sanctuary. Thus began their three-day trek across the continent. On a stormy October night in 2013, the caravan set off. Along the way, the animals encountered a number of difficulties but ultimately reached the safe haven that was their destination. Laidlaw chronicles the trip, combining key facts with absorbing storytelling. His forthright narrative is complemented by Deines’s luminous oil paintings, which expertly use color and light to track the emotional trajectory of the elephants from discomfort and misery to anxiety and fear and then, finally, to delight and contentment. The image of the newcomers being greeted by the waving trunks of the three elephants already residing at PAWS glows with golden light and reflects the joy of the occasion. A supplementary appendix includes background information and photographs of the actual trip. VERDICT A great addition for lessons on wildlife and the ethics of zoos. Pair with Sandra Markle’s The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins or Toni Buzzeo’s A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Excellent SLJ review of Elephant Journey

Publisher’s Weekly review of Elephant Journey

Publisher’s Weekly, March 21, 2016

Born in southern Africa, elephants Toka and Iringa were later captured and brought to a Toronto zoo; a third elephant, Thika, was born in captivity. When the zoo’s cramped conditions and cold climate began to impair the elephants’ heath, public outcry resulted in their 2013 relocation to a California sanctuary. In subdued oil paintings, Deines focuses on the elephants’ long, difficult journey, riding in crates on flatbed truck trailers through dangerous weather conditions. Seeing Toka, Iringa, and Thika finally free to explore their new home—80 acres of glowing grasslands—will likely bring relief to sensitive readers. Photographs and additional rescue details round out a sensitive account of animal activism and rehabilitation. Ages 6–9.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Publisher’s Weekly review of Elephant Journey

Elephant Journey on another favourite kids picture book list

Favourite picture books of 2015

Patricia Coppard / Times Colonist

I often don’t like kids’ books that are too obviously tackling a particular social issue.

Sometimes, they have great social-service-expert credentials but lousy writing.

Sometimes, they just feel preachy.

Generally, my kids listen to them politely, then move on to something else. They don’t tend to pick them up again.

By “issue” books, incidentally, I don’t mean stories with a message. Good stories often have a moral or message, and in the best ones, it never feels forced. A good example is The Old Ways, a book that came out in the fall of 2014 about an Inuit boy who rebuffs his grandparents’ attempts to tell him old stories and teach him old skills such as how to build an igloo — until they get stuck out on the land in frigid temperatures when their snowmobile breaks down.

Suddenly, the “old ways” become a lot more relevant than video games. The book, by Susan Chapman and illustrated by John Mantha (Fifth House Books), tackles a topical issue but in a way that feels natural.

Here are a few of my top picks for 2015 out of the review copies the Times Colonist received this year. All have been lab-tested on my seven- and nine-year-old, are suitable for ages five and up, and combine good storytelling and clear writing with imaginative illustrations, and usually a little humour.

One of my favourites is A Year of Borrowed Men, by B.C. author Michelle Barker, about a German family’s complex relationship with French prisoners of war brought in to work on their farm in the Second World War. Based on a true story and illustrated by Renné Benoit (Pajama Press), A Year of Borrowed Men is told from the point of view of a young girl who likes the men and struggles to understand why they are not supposed to be “Freundes” or friends. If you like books that inspire lots of questions from your kids, this is a good one. Some of them might be hard to answer, though.

Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and their Rescue from Captivity, by Rob Laidlaw with art by Brian Deines (Pajama Press), is another thought-provoking read for kids. Told in easy-to-understand language, it’s the story of a complicated effort to retire three elephants from the Toronto Zoo to an open-air animal sanctuary in California. As with Borrowed Men, this one will provide many opportunities for discussion with kids, starting with: Why would people want to keep the elephants in Toronto, even if it’s not good for them? It includes real-life photos, always a plus.

Another story that includes plenty of real-life documentation is Finding Winnie: the True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear (Little, Brown) by Lindsay Mattick, whimsically illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourne, a veterinarian who bought a baby bear at an Ontario train station while en route to war in 1914, and named it Winnipeg, after his adopted city. Colebourne’s fellow soldiers adopted the animal as a mascot, although before they headed to France, Colebourne donated Winnie to the London Zoo, where A.A. Milne’s son Christopher Robin became enamoured with the animal. And thus began the saga of one of the world’s most famous bears, Winnie the Pooh.

The book includes lots of fascinating historical bits and pieces, such as Colebourne’s offhand diary note the day he acquired the bear (“Bought bear $20”). The story raises many Big Topics for kids: Why did the trapper at the train station have the bear? What might have happened to it? Is it good to keep animals in captivity? Have fun answering them.

Stick and Stone definitely has a message, but it’s delivered with so much humour, wit and creativity, it goes down easily. It’s a simple story about friendship, told with few words in simple language, but it’s incredibly effective. Stick and Stone are thrown together when Pinecone starts being a bully on the playground. The book, by Beth Ferry with funny illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is a favourite with my seven-year-old, and good for younger readers.

If you had to sum up the message of Henry Holton Takes the Ice by Sandra Bradley (Dial by Penguin), it would be an oldie: “Be who you are.” It’s a lovely story about a boy in a hockey-mad family who decides he would rather figure-skate, told in an engaging and funny way (Henry’s mom drives a Zamboni to work and when Henry is born, there is only one question: left wing or right wing?). Luckily, Henry finds an advocate for his ambitions in Grandma.

Me, Too! (Kids Can Press) is my seven-year-old daughter’s favourite. It’s about a seven-year-old girl (natch) who fears losing her best friend to a newcomer, a conundrum familiar to many kids. It’s also easy for kids to read out loud to you, for a change. It’s written by Annika Dunklee and illustrated by Lori Joy Smith.

Who can resist The Day the Crayons Came Home with its quirky, funny messages from disgruntled crayons scribbled on retro postcards? It’s a winning formula from Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, creators of the bestselling The Day the Crayons Quit.

“You’re probably wondering why my head is stuck to your SOCK?” writes turquoise crayon. “A question I ask myself every day. Well … it’s because last week you left me in your pocket and I ended up in the DRYER.”

As my kids get older, we encounter fewer books told in rhyme, which is a shame. So Pig the Pug, whose resistance to sharing with sausage dog Trevor gets him into a wee bit of trouble, is a real treat. Written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Canada), it’s probably a must read for young kids who own pugs, but fun for the rest of us, too.

Worms, translated from the French, is also a hoot, about a boy who jazzes up his father’s stuffy dinner party by introducing worms to the menu. It’s by Bernard Friot, with illustrations by Aurélie Guillerey (Kids Can Press).

Also unmistakably French is Loula and Mister the Monster (Kids Can Press), with gorgeous ink and watercolour illustrations by author Anne Villeneuve that reminded me of the Madeline series. It’s about a little girl with a giant dog who tries to teach him better manners with the help of Gilbert the family chauffeur (yes, the family chauffeur) when she becomes convinced her mother wants to get rid of the animal.

And since we’re on a roll with books translated from the French — Kids Can Press seems to have tapped into a winning formula here — The Bus Ride, by Marianne Dubuc, is a simple tale of a girl’s first solo bus ride, told with Dubuc’s distinctive pencil-crayon drawings. It’s a little nutty, with a cast of anthropomorphic animal characters filling the seats.

Another charming and imaginative French import from Kids Can Press is the Bureau of Misplaced Dads, by Eric Veillé and Pauline Martin, about a boy who misplaces his father and goes looking for him at said bureau, which offers a selection of dad types and styles.

We also enjoyed the drawings in The Tea Party in the Woods, by Akiko Miyakoshi (Kids Can Press) and first published in Japanese, about a little girl who encounters a strange cast of animal characters when she sets out through the woods to bring a pie to her grandmother.

No 2015 roundup would be complete without Mustache Baby, who makes a repeat appearance in Mustache Baby Meets His Match, by Bridget Heos, with illustrations by Joy Ang (Clarion Books — Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Baby Billy’s got a good-guy mustache — that is, until he tangles with the new kid on the block: Baby Javier, a lumbersexual-bearded preschooler. After many increasingly testy tests of mettle, involving train sets, rocking horses, Harley tricycles and fishy crackers, the two go head to head with bad-guy facial hair: an impressive curled handlebar cowboy mustache and a villainous long, pointy biker beard. I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say this followup to Mustache Baby is a clever tale about friendship and competitiveness, with great illustrations.

My girls, who occasionally like to rock a fake mustache, love it.

And since I began by criticizing “issue” books, I must give a shoutout to Kids Can Press for its CitizenKid series, which my kids always enjoy reading.

This year it was The Red Bicycle by Victoria writer Jude Isabella, which follows the journey of a bike from the North American boy who outgrows it to the girl in Burkina Faso in West Africa who uses it to haul goods to market, and its service as a makeshift ambulance pulling a stretcher.

It’s a great story with information about bicycle donation and photos of working bicycles in Africa.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Elephant Journey on another favourite kids picture book list

Simcoe.com – Good Kids’ Books About Animals

Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and Their Rescue from Captivity

Rob Laidlaw, illustrations by Brian Deines
Pajama Press, 2015, 40 pages, ISBN: 9781927485774, ages 5+

A heartwarming nature adventure for children, Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and their Rescue from Captivity chronicles the steps in relocating the last three surviving elephants at the Toronto Zoo to their more appropriate home at the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in California.

Rob Laidlaw, author and founder of Zoocheck, has written an entertaining account of this journey for young children where he shows how the less than an acre enclosure, with Canadian winters, was nothing like the native African home the animals should be enjoying.

After considerable work and effort by many people, the three elephants – Toka, Thika and Iringa – were transported to a much more suitable and healthier place. The PAWS sanctuary boasts “eighty acres of natural land” where the animals can explore “hills, trees, streams, and grasslands” compared to the “barely one acre of mostly barren ground” in Toronto the animals were forced to endure for years.

At the end of the inspirational story the author has included information about elephants and the dramatic events that resulted in their rescue and better life at the PAWS sanctuary.

Complemented with excellent illustrations by Brian Deines and photographs, Elephant Journey is an important book, with an important message, that parents, teachers and other educators would be wise to share with their children.

Bird Watching for Kids: Bite-Sized Learning & Backyard Projects

George H. Harrison

Willow Creek Press, 2015, 80 pages, ISBN: 9781623438500, ages 8+

It is important to get children involved in nature and bird watching can be a fun and educational activity. In “A Message to Adults” at the beginning of the book the author states, “By involving children in efforts to make their backyards more attractive to wild birds, adults open a door of opportunity for their children to a greater understanding of our environment and a deeper love of nature – its beauty, drama, and wonder.”

The first chapter, “Birds Are Cool”, looks at what amazing animals birds are and how you can invite them to your backyard. Chapter two looks at various “backyard birds” including the Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-capped Chickadee, Song Sparrow, Mourning Dove and many others.

The third chapter, “Planting for Birds”, shows how you can make a backyard habitat for birds beginning with drawing a plan. Food trees for birds and a list of their “favourite plants” is also included.

Other information found in the book includes setting up, and stocking, various kinds of feeders. There is also a good list of 22 birds and their favourite foods. There is even a chapter on building houses for various birds. Watering, photographing and solving bird problems is also addressed.

Bird Watching for Kids is an informative book for learning about our feathered neighbours and how we can give them a helping hand.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Simcoe.com – Good Kids’ Books About Animals

BookBuzz review of Elephant Journey

Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and their Rescue from Captivity

Posted by – December 11, 2015

Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and their Rescue from Captivity

By Rob Laidlaw • Brian Deines, Illustrator
Pajama Press, $19.95, 40 pages, Format: Hard

Elephant Journey is about three zoo elephants and their rescue from captivity.  Two of the elephants were originally from Africa, but were captured and moved to the Toronto Zoo, which is in Canada.  Thika was born at the zoo ten years after Toka and Iringa arrived.  She never knew what it was like to be a free elephant in the wild.

The elephants eventually started to show signs of ill health, which is common among zoo animals.  Some animal protection groups petitioned to send the elephants to the PAWS sanctuary, instead of being relocated to another zoo.

“The three friends had no place to roam about, no trees to explore, and no pasture to graze.”

The trip was long and hard.  They had to stop to feed and water the elephants, and clean out their cages.  After a long journey, the elephants arrived safely at the sanctuary.  Now, they could roam over 80 acres of land, including soft grass, trees, mud, and streams.  At the zoo, the elephants had only an acre of hard, barren ground on which to walk around.

This is both a happy and sad story.  It is sad because the elephants were unhealthy and unhappy at the zoo.  It is happy because they were freed to live the rest of their lives in the animal sanctuary.

Reviewed by Elena, Age 7

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on BookBuzz review of Elephant Journey

CM Magazine gives Elephant Journey “highly recommended”

Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and Their Rescue From Captivity.

Rob Laidlaw. Art by Brian Deines.
Toronto, ON: Pajama Press, 2015.
40 pp., hardcover, $22.95.
ISBN 978-1-927485-77-4.

Subject Headings:
Captive elephants-Canada-Juvenile literature.
Wildlife rescue-Canada-Juvenile literature.
Animal sanctuaries-California-Juvenile literature.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Meredith Cleversey.

***½ /4

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.

internal art      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.

Highly Recommended.

Meredith Cleversey is a librarian in Cambridge, ON. She loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on CM Magazine gives Elephant Journey “highly recommended”