Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review #17: Tua and the Elephant

This month's Animal Fantasy Book Review features Tua and the Elephant by debut author R. P. Harris.  I spied this book while browsing my local library for new animal fantasies, and was immediately drawn to the precious cover illustration by Taeeun Yoo.  I know, I know--you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but how could you not fall in love this one?  By the time I read the jacket flap, I was sold and ready for an exotic adventure in Thailand.  Here's the summary from the Chronicle Books website:

Tua and the ElephantTen-year-old Tua—Thai for “peanut”—has everything she needs at home in Chiang Mai, Thailand, except for one thing she’s always wanted: a sister.  In the market one day, Tua makes an accidental acquaintance—one with wise, loving eyes, remarkable strength, and a very curious trunk.  And when Tua meets Pohn-Pohn, it’s clear this elephant needs her help. 

Together, the unusual team sets off on a remarkable journey to escape from Pohn-Pohn’s vile captors.  From the bustling night market to the hallowed halls of a Buddhist temple and finally, to the sanctuary of an elephant refuge, this clever girl and her beloved companion find that right under their noses is exactly what each has been searching for: a friend. 

I've read a lot of animal fantasies over the years, but not many that featured elephants, especially elephants in Thailand.  From page one to "The End," I just loved this story of unexpected friendship.  (A friendship that is extra-cute since Tua's name means "peanut" and her best buddy is a pachyderm.  You know, because elephants like peanuts?  Oh, never mind...)  In addition to being a heartwarming story, this book is a fantastic example of world-building and has a very unique take on "talking" animals, too.

Unlike many animal fantasy stories, Tua and Pohn-Pohn do not actually talk to each other.  Most of their communication is done with gestures (such as Pohn-Pohn taking Tua's hand in her trunk) or by Tua putting words in Pohn-Pohn's mouth by interpreting her expressions, reactions, etc.  As the story progresses, the narrator does show the world through Pohn-Pohn's thoughts from time to time.  And sometimes, the interpretations AND thoughts even go hand in hand.  For example: "Pohn-Pohn tossed her trunk up and down...She could smell the musky scent of elephants..It was in the air and on the ground--it was all around her.  She reached out and stroked Tua's back as if to say, 'Can you smell that?'"  (pg. 162).  Here, the narrator is showing the reader what is going on in Pohn-Pohn's head, while giving us Tua's interpretations of the elephant's actions.  I can't recall ever reading a book with a communication set up like this before, and it was rather remarkable.  It you want to try a non-talking form of  communication in your own animal fantasy novel, you could definitely learn a thing or two from Harris!

The fact that Tua and the Elephant takes place in the real world instead of a fantasy one doesn't make the setting less fantastic.  Harris really immerses the reader in Tua's Thailand home, from the bustling city to the serene elephant sanctuary and everywhere in between.  Cultural words are peppered throughout the story, giving the prose an authentic and natural feel.  The reader even learns much about the society and economy through Tua's young eyes, from the impoverished locals to the wealthy farangs (foreigners) she meets during her journey--as well as the kind and cruel people that make up each class.  Add Pohn-Pohn's views on the world--from the villainous mahouts who abused her to the wonderful little girl who feeds her tasty mangoes--and the book gains an extra level of world-building depth.  The author's note explains that Tua's story was inspired by Harris' own trip to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  I've always heard that writers should write about what they know and love.  The careful attention to detail and culture in this book shows that Harris truly took that advice to heart.

If you enjoy books about faraway places and exotic animals, than Tua and the Elephant is a great pick for you.  If you love friendship stories, then this book is definitely a winner for you, too.  And if you write animal fantasy, you should trek out to your local bookstore and snatch this up ASAP.  I guarantee this is a book you won't soon forget.  (Okay, I'm done making lame elephant jokes now.)

For the life of me, I could not find a website for R. P. Harris, but you can find out more about the novel on Chronicle Books' website:

You can also learn more about Taeeun Yoo and her beautiful illustrations on her website:  (Her gallery is just lovely!)

And if you read this book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  :)

Happy reading!  

Note: Cover art and summary blurb are both from the Chronicle Books website, listed above.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...

Okay, not really, but I did notice this lovely sight on the ground today!

Buds say, "Here we come!"

While I love Christmas and snow (when I don't have to drive in it), winter is not my favorite season.  Dry skin; slippery roads; barren trees; freezing my tushy off each time I step outside--the list of seasonal unpleasantness is long and yucky.  And by mid-February, I think even most ski bunnies have had enough of the season.  

But these little buds are a sign that spring will soon be in the air!  Unfortunately, the weather forecast says that snow will be in the air much sooner.

Buds say, "Oh no!"

Although I'm very happy my hyacinths are ready for warmer weather, they may just be a tad over-enthusiastic this year.  Old Man Winter isn't done with us yet, but there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel and the hope of wonderful things to come.

So bundle up for a few more weeks, snuggle close together, and don't let the winter blahs get you down!  (And if you have some overly-eager buds of your own, do make them some tiny scarves and earmuffs.  They'll appreciate it.)

Buds say, "See you soon!"

Note: Photos and art by me!  If you couldn't tell, I've contracted cabin-fever.  ;)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

First COSCBWI Illustrator Meeting!

February 6th was a momentous day for COSCBWI--our very first Illustrator Meeting!

In case you haven't heard, one of COSCBWI's goals for 2013 is to create more events and meetings geared towards illustrators and their specific needs.  (Although ALL members are welcome to attend, of course!)  The endeavor kicked-off this month with the first Illustrator Meet and Greet (and Critique) Meeting!  As an aspiring illustrator, I made sure I was in attendance to see what the new COSCBWI Illustrator Coordinator, Nikki Boetger, has in store for all of us.

After introductions, Nikki opened the floor for a group critique session.  Critiques are just as important for illustrators as they are for writers.  Constructive feedback does wonders for helping artists grow and become more professional in their work.  I volunteered to be our guinea pig and offered one of my pieces up for critique.  I got great feedback from our members, and the critique setting let us all get to know each other better.  Their insights will certainly help me on my upcoming projects, and I'm sure our members learned a lot from the advice everyone had to share.  :)

The rest of the meeting consisted of a group chat regarding what members would like to see from the Illustrator Events this year.  Nikki has some great ideas, including on-site sketching around Columbus and talks by industry professionals.  She has some fun projects in the works, too, that involve working towards artistic goals, such as prepping illustrator postcards or working on individual pieces for the SCBWI grants. 

While places and dates may change by event, the current plan is to meet on the SECOND Wednesday of every month at the good ol' Upper Arlington Library.  (The same place the usual COSCBWI monthly meetings are held.  But remember, those take place on the FOURTH Wednesday of every month!)  And keep in mind: if you're someone who dabbles in art, likes to look at paintings, or has just colored in a coloring book once in your lifetime, you are still very welcome to come!  Illustrators and writers BOTH have a lot to gain from these new meetings! 

Be sure to check out the COSCBWI website at for more information on upcoming meetings, and stay tuned to our Facebook page as well!  And if you couldn't attend the Illustrator Meet and Greet, feel free to give us your input on what you'd like to see from the group by emailing COSBWI at:  (You can add a comment below this blog post, too.  I'll be sure it gets to the right people!)

I hope to see you at the next COSCBWI Illustrator Event!