Saturday, October 27, 2012

Small as an Elephant

A Review of Small as an Elephant  
by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Another gem on the MSBA List 2012-13

Ages 9 and up (from the publisher)
Candlewick Press 2011

Watch the Book Trailer

When Jack wakes up at a campground in Acadia National Park all alone, he soon realizes that his mother has left him....again.
Only Jack doesn't find a trusted adult or go to the police like most kids would if faced with the same situation.   He knows from experience that if he tells someone what has happened then his mother will get in serious trouble with authorities and he may get taken away from her and put in foster care.  Although Jack never quite comes out and says it, his mother has bipolar disorder and has severe episodes of mania which he calls "spinning".  

In an attempt to protect his mother,  Jack tries to hide the fact that he is all alone.  It's easy at first.  He spends the day with another boy and his family.  He lies and tells them that his mother is ill and is resting at the campsite.  The family feeds him and he tries to play and swim, all the while hoping and praying that his mother will return by nightfall.  When she doesn't return, and people start asking questions, Jack decides to leave the campground and go search for her in Bar Harbor.  

Small as an Elephant is Jack's incredible, and sometimes heartbreaking, story of adventure and survival.  After he realizes that his mother has really left him and is not returning anytime soon, he decides to try to get to York, Maine to see Lydia the elephant.  Jack's love of elephants started an argument with his mother on the way to Maine. As many children would, he blames himself for her leaving. Using his eleven year old logic, he somehow thinks that if he can get to see Lydia at York's Wild Kingdom then everything will be all right. 

The book chronicles Jack's journey from Bar Harbor to York, Maine.  There are many stops along the way including spending the night at LLBean in Ellsworth, visiting Fort Knox in Bucksport  many other Maine locations.  All the while he is desperately trying to find food, shelter and transportation with no money.

This book is filled with action and near misses. It moves quickly and grabs the reader from the very beginning.
Does Jack's mother return?  Will he make it to see Lydia before she is moved to Florida to spend the colder months?  Readers will be satisfied with the touching ending.

As a 4th grade teacher, and life-long Mainer, I plan to read this book with my class. I would recommend it as a read aloud for grades 3 and up.  Students in late grade 4 and up should be able to enjoy it on their own.  Adults should be mindful that this book touches upon some scary and confusing issues such as mental illness, neglect and abandonment which will need to be discussed. 

Click here for a map of Jack's Route.

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