The Elephant - Peter Carnavas CBC shortlisted book 2018
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Olive has a lot on her mind.
And a lot on her shoulders. While navigating her own grief, her first concern is her father, who isn’t coping. Leaning on support from her grandfather, one close friend, and her dog, she demonstrates a resilience and perseverance that will be endearing to most readers.
Peter Carnavas’, “The Elephant” landed on the CBC shortlist a couple of years ago, and for good reason. This well-crafted gem can simply be enjoyed by kids, or it can be used to explore some higher-level analysis in younger readers.
Sometimes it feels like there is a shortage of books that sit within that range for grades 2-4, that are easy enough to decode, yet complex enough for rich conversation. This is one of them that achieves this (add it to Sally Murphy’s Toppling, Sharon Creech’s “Love that Dog”, Ted Hugh’s “The Iron Man”). This book is potential fuel for some strong conversations between students in lit circles.
How can I use it to teach?
Authors sometimes use repetition of an idea or phrase on purpose. If you’ve ever looked at “Notice and Note”, it’s the “Again and Again” signpost. Basically, when an author keeps showing us something over and over, we want to be questioning, “why did the author do that?”
You can use that here. Carnavas uses the idea of colour to represent characters feelings. He dwells on bright colours again and again, and that is intentional. Birds, flowers, clothes. There are examples to notice once they’ve been taught about it. When this happens, we question why this is happening and what it tells us. Here is their entry point into symbolism ( Yes, symbolism for a nine year old).
When will they use that again? In this book. The Elephant isn’t real. It represents grief It’s an obvious one. So it’s an entry point. It is also not the only example of it in the book, which most readers (like myself) will not realise until after the book ends. They will go back and rethink this after they are done, so the conversations will continue.
On top of this, Carnavas naturally mixes sentence types and lengths, so it can serve as a mentor text in places, for analysing how this helps a text.
It is hard to find rich texts for this age group, that allow you to analyse author’s craft this much, and scaffold kids into a deeper awareness of the choices author’s make. Aside from being an uplifting story about endurance and family, it may spark curiosity into the language choices in it, as students