‘Please tell us the story.’
‘Yes, the story.’ My brother nudges me.
Father always pretends he won’t tell us, but he always does.
Each time, the story is more amazing.
‘Alright, tonight I will tell Grandfather’s story.’
Two children beg their father to tell them Grandfather’s story. And tonight he agrees and tells them the story of children searching in the dark to discover the secret. Each is sure they have discovered the secret until Grandfather brings a torch and reveals that what they have each discovered is both true and only part of the truth. The two young children having heard this story then embark on a flying journey aboard their grandfather’s mystical elephant. They see the world from above, their grandfather’s home in a distant country, the war that hurt so many and many more places. Eventually they return home to the safety of home. Illustrations are in soft beautiful watercolours, realistic and mythical in turns. Text wanders about the page, adding to the dream/mythical sequences. Endpapers begin monochrome red and end rainbow-hued, though the underlying ink patterns remain the same.
Elephants Have Wings is both realistic and allegorical. The family are safe in their home, but the story the father shares with the children reflects a previous life that wasn’t so safe, and tells a tale that reminds us that there are many perspectives and only by looking at the whole picture can we truly understand others. Elephants symbolise many things for different cultures. They are strong, live long, are considered wise and steadfast. All these characteristics are inherent in any journey to safety. Elephants Have Wings is a beautiful story and will be enjoyed by many young readers purely on a superficial level. But there is much more to be explored here. Migration, oppression, endurance, perseverance and more, illuminated in word and image. A rich and delightful story for young and old alike. Recommended for primary readers.
Elephants Have Wings, Susanne Gervay ill Anna Pignataro Ford Street Publishing 2014 ISBN: 9781925000399
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller