There were definitely tears shed when I read this story, but they weren’t just tears of sadness. They were tears of hope, nostalgia and understanding. And don’t even get me started on the wonderful kapow! to the heart the second-last chapter provided (#NoSpoilers). But above all, ‘The Elephant‘ is a great insight into how a young girl deals with issues of depression and grief that have impacted her family.
Olive’s dad has been feeling sad for so long that she has begun to imagine his sorrow is in the shape of an elephant. The big, foreboding creature lumbers behind her father and shows no sign of moving on. One day Olive decides she needs to get rid of her dad’s elephant and enlists the help of her Grandad and her best friend, Arthur. But igniting happiness in her dad again and chasing away the elephant may be harder than Olive thought.
From the premise it’s clear that Olive has a special connection with her father, but the story that captured my heart just as much was the connection between Olive and her Grandad.
The grief in the story stems from the death of Olive’s mum quite some years prior. Olive’s dad has found it hard to carry on without his wife. And despite his cheerful and calming exterior, Grandad is still mourning the loss of his daughter. Olive loves having her Grandad living with them because he provides the stability she needs, and they often go on adventures singing their special song, ‘Side by Side’. Olive is dealt another blow when she realises her Grandad has a sadness following him too, but resolves to help him just like her dad. As she so beautifully puts it:
“Grandad rubs out the grey parts of my day and fills them in with colour.” (pg. 111)
Olive is an empathetic character who has a sweet determination in her actions, despite the setbacks she faces. She’d love for her dad to finish fixing her bike, but he’s unable to focus on the task. Instead of complaining, though, Olive understands her dad’s going through a hard time and acts compassionately towards him, which is a catalyst for her in wanting to get rid of his elephant. However, Olive still needs an outlet for her own emotions and she has that in her best friend, Arthur. She confides in him about her family and the sadness surrounding them and he gives her understanding and advice in return. They make a great team.
Peter Carnavas also illustrated the novel and it’s interesting to see how those illustrations are used, particularly the subtle differences of the elephants under each chapter heading. The pictures complement the emotion in the writing – there’s one page in particular where there’s no text, just Olive’s dad standing alone, his head bowed. And on the preceding page is the enormous elephant following him. There’s also really sweet moments too, like Olive playing on the trampoline where’s she’s captured mid-bounce with a smile on her face in a moment of happiness. And therein lies the hope.
The Elephant recently won the Griffith University Children’s Book Award at the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards, and was also shortlisted in 2018 for the CBCA Book of the Year & the NSW Premiers Literary Awards.
“I don’t know what’s a-comin’ tomorrow,
Maybe it’s trouble and sorrow,
But we’ll travel the road,
Sharing our load,
Side by side.”