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Reading an Encyclopedia to Reel off Facts is Barely Useful

It is definitely interesting to know about what makes the African Elephant different from the Asian Elephant. Why do they have gigantic ears where as their Asian counterparts don't. How long is an elephant's tail? How much does an elephant weigh?...What if, we change the line of questioning to trigger a discussion? Raise questions such as, "How many elephants exist today in the world? Why does wild life need elephants? Why do we, human beings, need elephants?

Once Upon An Elephant written by Linda Stanek and illustrated by Shennen Bersani helped us at the Young Readers' Club to travel to the wild and discover answers to the questions that triggered a lot of thinking and discussion. The illustrations brought the book to life by giving details which the text could not say. Every page brought a new situation in the wild and illustrated how the elephants help to make lives better.

The book begins with dry, cracked land and animals looking for water. Some of them are unable to stand because of fatigue and thirst. The young readers were asked, "How can the elephants help them get water?" Some said that they could help other animals by carrying them to a nearby river or pond or lake. Others thought a while about that idea and said, "Elephants can bring water in their trunks and give it to the animals." That's what we thought. As the page turned we found that the elephants dig deep into the ground with their strong tusks to bring ground water to the surface. There came on the realization, "There is water under the ground too but it is very deep and not easy to get to. The elephants help using their strong tusks."

While we read further about how elephants help in making grasslands a little more open for the gazelles to run freely by breaking down sprouts and saplings and eating them, one of the young readers pointed out,

"Elephants also help plant trees!"

"How is that possible?"

"I think they eat and throw away the seeds," said a third voice in the group, while the others thought about it. After a brief pause, we looked into the book and found that the answer was not very different from what we thought. The trees of seeds are found in very thick pods. The elephants eat those pods and the seeds come out in their dung. When this gets mixed with soil, the seeds germinate and they grow into trees. The trees in turn give food and shelter to the animals and birds. Energised by the fact that their guess was right, the group eagerly read further guessing possible solutions for every problem.

Throughout the book we discovered a lot more about wild life and the role that elephants play in maintaining quality of life in the jungles. Later, we wondered about how they help human beings? The children described Rajahs on elephants, going to wars and processions. However, that was olden times. What about now? Perhaps they are used to carry loads? But don't we have machines now? Then what does humankind need elephants for? The book gives us something to ponder about by touching upon how elephants are poached and killed for their tusks.

What does all this imply? The author leaves it to the child to decipher and decide.


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