Trunk talk

As the elephant motif evolves, publishers say they are more sensitive of its portrayal

November 03, 2017 04:07 pm | Updated 04:18 pm IST

“There’s something about elephants,” quips acclaimed author and publisher Shobha Viswanath, when asked about the influx of children’s books on elephants in our literary landscape.

Endearing and playful, yet symbols of strength and loyalty, they have always been popular with the tots. So it isn’t surprising they have been extensively used as metaphors for a variety of themes and subjects. But nowadays, the elephant is standing for new analogies. In An Elephant in my Backyard , Viswanath uses the gentle giant to touch upon the common parenting tendency to dismiss children’s claims, as a product of their wild imaginations. “The picture book is for adults, to take notice of what their children are saying,” she points out. While Radhika Menon, publishing director of Delhi-based Tulika Books, says, “(More recently) we have shown them differently in our folk stories. For example, in Elephants Don’t Forget , it pays back the tailor for hurting it with a needle!”

At Tara Books, nuanced forms of storytelling serves their larger agenda of featuring animals as part of a complex environment. “We neither romanticise them, nor see them as fearful. We see ourselves as having to learn to co-exist with them, for the greater good.” explains editorial director V Geetha.

Voicing a neutral take on the topic is award-winning author Anushka Ravishankar. “The elephant doesn’t always have to stand for something. Sometimes an elephant is just an elephant,” she says. But have the ways of representing them evolved, too? Illustrator and animator Shilpa Ranade says, “It depends on the story and style, so the change is contextual.” However, she notes there has been increased sensitivity in representing the animal, given the upsurge in literary works that are based on elephant-conservation.

While you are at it, here is a handy list of books you can pull out, if you are ever in the need of some warm, fuzzy elephant company:

Little Vinayak

Author: Shobha Viswanath

Illustrator: Shilpa Ranade

What does an elephant do when his trunk is longer than his body? This is little Vinayaks’ problem. No matter what he does, he cannot figure out how to live a normal life. He jumps, trips and falls — until he finds an unusual friend who offers him an even more unusual solution. Viswanath spins a heart-warming tale on how one needn’t make up for ones shortcomings. Sometimes, all you have to do is work around it, with acceptance and grace.

Speaking to an Elephant

Authors: Manish Chandi, Madhuri Ramesh

Illustrator: Matthew Frame

A delightful collection of folklore, Speaking to an Elephant features the lives of Kadars, a small indigenous community who live in the Western Ghats. Their lives require them to keep peace with wild animals, and this lifestyle of co-existence is exactly what the book aims to unearth. One of the stories informs readers how elephants helped humans sow and reap in the jungle, and how people in turn learned to live and share the jungle with them. Originally narrated to the authors by Kadar elders, these stories hold within them lessons for all those interested in regrowing our forests.

Aditi Adventures

Author: Suniti Namjoshi

Illustrators: Proiti Roy, Shefalee Jain

This collection of 12 books feature the adventures of Aditi and her eclectic bunch of friends: an ant, a one-eyed monkey, two dragons and an elephant. These books chronicle her travels to different countries and terrains, including outer space and cyberspace. Each adventure presents them with a new challenge — from saving a city in crisis to hunting down their lost friend. The books raise questions about identity, character, friendship and other themes that are bound to make the reader think. The series will soon see an addition of three new editions.

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