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*Small as an Elephant* by Jennifer Richard Jacobson - middle grades nonfiction book review
Small as an Elephant
by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Ages 9-13 288 pages Candlewick March 2011 Hardcover    

Essentially an urban survival story, Small as an Elephant is the story of eleven-year-old Jack, who has been abandoned by his mother at a campground in Maine.

This is not the first time his mother has left. She often has periods of time when she is “spinning” and leaves him alone. All the other times were different; he was at home. This time he is hundreds of miles from his home in Massachusetts with no food, shelter or friends to help.

Initially, Jack waits for his mother to come back to the campground; then leaves to search for her, desperately checking the internet and looking in all the places she might go – tourist shops, restaurants, etc. When he hears that a woman fitting her description has sailed off to the Bahamas, his plans change and Jack decides to go home.

His journey is difficult; he finds himself stealing, digging in the garbage, sleeping in a barn and even spending the night in an L.L. Bean store. Eventually, he learns that the whole state of Maine is looking for him and his journey must become concealed.

Giving up on the prospect of going home, he decides to visit Lydia, the only elephant in the state of Maine. Jack has been interested in elephants ever since he was a little boy. Each chapter begins with a quote or fact about elephants which fits loosely with the events of that section.

Throughout the story, Jack always tries to make the right decisions; oftentimes he finds himself in a situation where he cannot do the right thing and look for or protect his mom at the same time. Jack’s overriding goal is to be reunited with his mother. He cannot understand the positive motives of his grandmother, who has initiated the search, and the other people in his life who are trying to help him.

Detailed descriptions make Small as an Elephant an exceptionally strong story. From the beginning, the reader wonders what happened to Jack’s mother and slowly comes to know why she might leave him. The author personally traveled all the places Jack did, carefully thinking through the obstacles he might encounter and accurately portraying a child’s perspective of being raised by a mentally ill mother.

Often finding himself in a desperate situations, the solutions to Jacks problems are not miraculous but rather results of choices he finds himself making in line with his goals of keeping hidden and finding his mother. This is a different type of survival story; the wilderness is familiar, but the problems are much the same – finding food and shelter; traveling to safety.

With a hopeful ending, filled with good-intentioned, well-meaning and genuinely kind adults who have Jack’s best interests in mind, the ending is both exciting and realistic.
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  Kristine Wildner/2011 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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