The Saggy Baggy Elephant

I was wandering around a street fair last weekend and a friend pointed out a book booth. Blame them for the money I spent on the 1.00 Little Golden Book bin. I pillaged it!

My favorite book so far is one I do not remember from my own childhood. That is ok. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite little treats of adulthood- think of it as a cupcake for your brain. My copy of The Saggy Baggy Elephant smells like musty garage even though the copy is in pristine condition.

TENGGRENS illustrations are what really make this book one worth “squeeing” over. The Saggy Baggy elephant is just about the saggiest, baggiest, cutest little fellow you have ever seen. (Along with pigs I have a soft spot for baby elephants).

K. and B. Jackson’s tale is about an elephant who calls himself Sooki. We meet him dancing his way through the jungle. Sookie thinks he is dancing beautifully until a parrot starts making fun of him for “shaking the jungle all to pieces…”  The Parrot asks Sooki what kind of animal he is- and we find that Sooki does not know. He only knows he calls himself Sooki:

“I don’t know what kind of animal I am. I live all alone by myself in the jungle. I dance and I kick- and I call myself Sooki. It’s a good sounding name. And it fits me, don’t you think?”

The parrot goes on to shatter the psyche of little Sookie better than any sixth grade girl could.

“Maybe’ answered the parrot, ‘but if it does it’s the only thing that does fit you. Your ears are to big for you, and your nose is way too big for you. And your skin is MUCH too big for you. And your skin is much, MUCH too big for you. It’s baggy and saggy. You should call yourself saggy baggy!”

Sooki takes the criticism as well as he can and tries to improve himself in various ways over the course of the book. Of course, nothing works and Sooki remains saggy and baggy. Towards the end of the book Sooki is so ashamed of how he looks he decides to hide in a cave. (I could just CRY…the illustrations of a sad baby elephant are almost too much to take. ).

Soon after taking refuge in the cave Sooki realizes too late that he is in home of a hungry lion.

The once happy Sooki is despondent:

“This is the end of me, sags, bags, wrinkles, and all…”

In his last moments Sooki decides to go out with a bang and gives out one last good trumpeting bellow…and who should appear but….SPOIER ALERT...a herd of ELEPHANTS! The hungry lion is terrified and runs away and little Sooki finds his ‘tribe’ at last!

“I wish I looked like you,” he said.“You do,” grinned the elephants. “You’re a perfectly dandy little elephant!”

Cue warm fuzzies!

I was impressed by the lessons found in a book for children so small. Who hasn’t experienced what Sooki did? Feeling out of place, unattractive, and awkward is a part of the human experience for all of us at one point or another. Finding the feelings narrated through animals makes the lessons accesible for all children. Let’s not forget the happy ending – a reminder that there is a group of friends for us all- the people who make us feel like we fit, and allow us to be ourselves.

A lovely book for just about anyone of any age.

The One And Only Ivan

Me: Look how cute this cover is! I am so excited to read this book.

LS: Oh, that is adorable.

Me: I see two cute animals there is no way I am getting through this one with dry eyes, huh?

LS: (appraises cover) No way…hysterical crying may be involved.

The above is the excerpt from my conversation with a coworker about The One and Only Ivan . We were both correct- tears were definitely involved. Patricia Castelao’s black and white  illustrations give faces to a lovable cast of characters. I make very unattractive snorking noises when I cry so to those of you who may read this in public or to a class and are also easy criers- be warned.

My copy of this books smells like freshly painted office spaces.

Katherine Applegate’s  The One and Only Ivan is a fresh release (2012) and a deeply moving story.    

It is based loosely on the real life of a gorilla who lived alone in a shopping mall exhibit for the first twenty seven years of it’s life without ever seeing another member of it’s species. The real Ivan is now a beloved member of the Zoo Atlanta family after the pubic protested Ivan’s conditions at the shopping mall.

The book is narrated from Ivan’s perspective and through his eyes we meet: Stella the aging elephant, George the janitor and his artistic daughter Julia, Bob the stray dog, Mack the mall and circus owner, and Ruby the baby elephant. Ivan is a simple and straight forward narrator whose objective observations of humans switch between painful and heartwarming. 

The animals have background stories that will leave you aching.  Applegate deftly weaves each one into the present tense of the story.  Ivan is the son of a great silverback gorilla and in the beginning of the story Ivan seems to feel disconnected from this genetic legacy. He is reluctant to remember the time before he was at the mall exhibit.

This story is Ivan’s coming into his own and discovering his true purpose and ability to guard and care for those around him.  He is the one and only Ivan, silverback, protector of his family.

For Ivan the day  baby Ruby arrives is the day his journey to self realization begins. Ruby is still crying for her mother when she is brought to the mall to share Stella’s cage. Stella cares for Ruby the best she can, but the day comes when circumstances force her to ask Ivan for help:

“”Ivan ,I want you to promise me something,’ Stella says.

‘Anything,’ I say.

‘I’ve never asked a promise before, because promises are forever, and forever is an unusually long time. Especially when you’re in  a cage.’

When I say the words, they surprise me. ‘You want me to take care of Ruby.’

Stella nods, a small gesture that makes her wince. ‘If she could have a life that’s….different from mine. She needs a safe place, Ivan. Not-‘

‘Not here,’ I say

It would be easier to promise to stop eating, to stop breathing, to stop being a gorilla.

“I promise,Stella, ‘I say.”I promise on my word as a silverback.'”

Ivan finds  purpose in this promise.It is an opportunity to hone and use his unusual talents.This book would make a great, albeit emotional class read aloud. Also a treat for yourself or animal lovers you know. Follow Ivan on his journey to save his loved ones and to  find his destiny. It will not be a journey you regret taking.