November 6, 2015
Elephant Journey The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and their Rescue from Captivity by Rob Laidlaw and Brian Deines
Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and their Rescue from Captivity, by Rob Laidlaw and Brian Deines, is a fantastic non-fiction book that uses the power of narrative (and the award-winning Deines’ gorgeous illustrations) to bring complex issues of animal protection to life. It’s the story of the two elephants from the Toronto Zoo who were brought there from African in the 1970s, when our understanding of the culture and purpose of zoos was very different, and one more who was born in captivity, all of whom failed to thrive in a northern climate so unsuited to their species. (For more about the zoo and elephants, read Nicholas Hune-Brown’s 2010 article, “What the Elephants Know”.)
After much political wrangling (which Laidlaw mercifully omits from his version of the tale), it was decided that the three elephants were to be moved to an animal sanctuary in California. And that amazing journey is the focus of this story, how the elephants were made accustomed to their crates, which where then picked up by giant cranes and loaded onto flatbed trailers towed by trucks. (And I love the illustration of the truck, being accompanied by a police car, headlights, streetlights, and flashing lights in the night; Deines is good at drawing trucks, one of which was a focus of Number 21, by Nancy Hundal, another book of his that we’ve enjoyed.)
The elephants make their way past surprised border guards, through the American midwest, and up and down the mountains in Utah and Nevada, where the brakes on one truck begin to overheat, but all is well after the driver douses them with water. And then the elephants arrive, become comfortable enough to leave their crates, and begin to acquaint themselves with their new neighbours, new surroundings and new lives.
Four pages of photographs, fact boxes and additional text add context and background to Laidlaw’s story, though the book stands well enough on its own without it. It’s a harrowing story with a most hopeful ending, and will make a definite impression on readers of all ages.