Strictly No Elephants


It had been one of those news days…. Actu­al­ly, there had been a string of such news days — hate-filled head­lines, bom­bas­tic egos, dan­ger­ous threats. The world seemed extra prick­ly and dan­ger­ous. It’s at these times that I espe­cial­ly like read­ing with kids. For­tu­nate­ly, I had a read­ing gig all lined up at an ele­men­tary school — it was the week lead­ing up to Read Across Amer­i­ca. Bless the schools — the teach­ers, par­ents and kids — who make this such a fun tra­di­tion each year. What a great celebration!

I was vis­it­ing Pre‑K and kinder­garten class­rooms, so I put togeth­er a lit­tle sto­ry­time cen­tered on the themes of peace, gen­tle­ness, inclu­sion, and love—The Big Umbrel­la, One Dog Canoe, Worm Loves Worm, Xander’s Pan­da Par­ty, and Strict­ly No Ele­phants—and went to read.

The kids at this school are obvi­ous­ly read to — they are polite, engaged audi­ences. They enjoyed what­ev­er com­bi­na­tion of books I read, but it was Strict­ly No Ele­phants by Lisa Mantchev, illus­trat­ed by Taee­un Yoo, that was the biggest hit in each class. They were hooked from the first line.

The trou­ble with hav­ing a tiny ele­phant for a pet is that you nev­er quite fit in.

Near as I can tell, it was the two word phrase “tiny ele­phant” that made them sit up and lean in. When I turned the page, they leaned in further. 

No one else has an elephant.

The text is spare, but it’s the illus­tra­tions that made them lean in, I think — an apart­ment house, every oth­er win­dow show­ing the usu­al sorts of pets that peo­ple have. Pup­pies, gold­fish, cats, a bird in a cage etc. And then the boy with the tiny ele­phant who lives next door. Sep­a­rate. Apart.

We’re then treat­ed to spreads of quo­tid­i­an activ­i­ties with the tiny ele­phant — going for walks, strug­gling over cracks in the side­walk (the tiny ele­phant is afraid of them) and the like.

And then! Joy! It’s Pet Club Day — every­one is meet­ing at Num­ber 17. All the cats and dogs and their peo­ple head out to the club meet­ing. As does the tiny ele­phant and boy.

But when they arrive at Num­ber 17, there is a sign that says: Strict­ly No Elephants. 

The tiny ele­phant leads the boy back home, obliv­i­ous to the side­walk cracks now, because: That’s what friends do: brave the scary things for you.

You could’ve heard the prover­bial pin drop. I looked out on lit­tle faces reg­is­ter­ing the pain of exclu­sion. We all know what that feels like. When I turned the page and the art showed rain and a blue and grey col­or palette that mir­rored our emo­tions, their lit­tle faces grew even sad­der. But I held the page open just a bit longer than usu­al. The spread is word­less, leav­ing the pic­tures to car­ry the mag­ic. The boy and his tiny ele­phant have red and yel­low on their cloth­ing (the ele­phant wears a scarf, of course)…and so does a girl sit­ting on the bench, her own pet in her lap. 

I watched their eyes trav­el from the boy and his ele­phant to the girl. They sat up just a tiny bit straighter, the light of hope return­ing to their eyes. I turned the page.

Turns out, the girl has a skunk for a pet. The trou­ble with hav­ing a skunk, of course, is that you nev­er quite fit in.… 

He doesn’t stink.,” the girl says. And the boy agrees.

They start their own club! My read­ers were ecsta­t­ic — what a great idea! There’s a glo­ri­ous spread of unusu­al pets. The kids went wild. We iden­ti­fied each of the unusu­al pets — a por­cu­pine, nar­whal, giraffe, and pen­guin among them. We were gid­dy with relief that every­one had found each other.

The kids and their pets find a park with a tree­house and they paint their own sign. This part was my favorite. At first they fol­low the mod­el they’d seen—Strict­ly no strangers. No Spoil­sports. But then they change it. It’s a sign that says who is wel­come instead of who is not.

All are wel­come. 

A most sat­is­fy­ing pic­ture book!

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Catherine Urdahl
5 years ago

Thanks for the heart-filled post, Melanie! This is one of my favorite pic­ture books.