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Appreciating Elephants By Becky Rupp

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By Becky Rupp


September 22 – just in time for fall – is Elephant Appreciation Day. The Day seems to be the brainchild of an elephant fan from Florida, who essentially invented it all on his own – but then, why not? Who doesn’t love elephants? And there are, of course, a zillion wonderful elephant resources.

Elephant Craft

Assorted elephant crafts for preschoolers with instructions and templates, including a project for making an elephant from an old CD, printable flashcards, and “ E is for Elephant” exercises.


Background information, coloring pages, crafts, and quizzes for elementary-level kids.


From Discovery Education, a lesson plan on elephant biology for grades 6-8. (What are those big ears for?)

Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age

From Chicago’s Field Museum, an interactive site all about elephants and their ancient ancestors.

Mammoths and Mastodons: All-American Monsters

From Smithsonian magazine, a fascinating and informative article on ancient elephants for older readers.

Elephants Hate Ants…
Check out this summary, video, and podcast from Scientific American – recent research shows that acacia trees escape the depredations of elephants because they’re protected by ants. And elephants hate ants.


Dr. Seuss’s Horton is just possibly the most lovable, loyal, and admirable elephant of all time. In Horton Hears a Who (Random House, 1954), big-eared Horton hears a cry for help from a small speck of dust and then bravely defends the tiny creatures who live on it, declaring “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” In Horton Hatches the Egg (Random House, 1968), Mayzie, a lazy and irresponsible bird, leaves Horton with her egg – which he doggedly cares for despite the taunts of his friends, because “an elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.” You couldn’t have a better role model. For ages 2-7.

AkimboandtheElephantsAlexander McCall Smith, as well as delighting adults with Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, has written a series of books for kids featuring Akimbo, a young African boy who lives on a Kenyan wildlife reserve where his father works as a park ranger. In Akimbo and the Elephants (Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2007), Akimbo and his father find a dead elephant, killed by poachers for its tusks. Resourceful Akimbo comes up with a plan to catch the criminals. For ages 4-8.

Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar first appeared in 1931, and today – along with family, friends, acquaintances, and enemies – appears in a long series of elephantine picture books for ages 4-8. In the first of these, The Story of Babar (Random House, 1937), young Babar loses his mother to a hunter, travels to the city, is adopted by a kindly old lady who outfits him in a green suit and sends him to school, and eventually returns to the jungle to become King of the Elephants.

For more on Babar, see Adam Gopnik’s 2008 New Yorker piece “Freeing the Elephants.”

What do elephants have to do with the Brooklyn Bridge? April Jones Prince’s Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2005) describes how – after the landmark completion of the Brooklyn Bridge – showman P.T. Barnum demonstrated its safety by parading 21 elephants across it, led by the famous seven-ton Jumbo. For another picture-book version of this terrific story, see LeUyen Pham’s Twenty-One Elephants (Simon & Schuster, 2004). For ages 4-8.

Margaret Mahy’s 17 Kings and 42 Elephants (Dial, 1987) is a marvelous poetical journey through the jungle, crammed with crocodiles, hippopotamuses, flamingos, peacocks, tigers, and – of course – elephants. For ages 4-8.

In Shirin Bridges’s The Umbrella Queen (Greenwillow Books, 2008), the custom in a little village in Thailand is to make beautiful umbrellas decorated with flowers and butterflies, but young Noot insists on painting hers with elephants. For ages 5-8.

The classic tale of how the elephant got his trunk is found in the story of “The Elephant’s Child” in Rudyard Kipling’s Just-So Stories, originally published in 1902. There are many editions of the book – just avoid anything either Disney or abridged. The complete original text and illustrations can be found online here.

In Pennies for Elephants by Lita Judge (Hyperion Books for Children, 2009), set in 1914, Dorothy and Henry discover that three talented circus elephants are for sale, and they determine to raise enough money to buy them for the Boston Zoo. Soon kids all over Boston – and the country – have joined their cause and, penny by penny, the money is raised. Illustrations include great little period images from the Boston Post. For ages 5-9.

Talented elephants are also the stars of Katya Arnold’s Elephants Can Paint Too! (Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Books, 2005), in which Arnold, an art teacher, describes her experiences teaching art to both children and elephants. The book is illustrated with photographs. For ages 5-9.

For more information and a gallery of elephant paintings, see the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project.

Amy Novesky’s Elephant Prince: The Story of Ganesh (Mandala Publishing, 2004) is the story of how the Hindu god Ganesh came to have the head of an elephant. For ages 5-9. Also see How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head by Harish Johari and Vatsala Sperling (Bear Cub Books, 2003), for slightly older readers.

Get instructions and patterns for a terrific elephant mask.

Ralph Helfer’s The World’s Greatest Elephant ((Philomel, 2006) is the real-life picture book tale of a young boy, Bram, and an elephant, Modoc, who grow up together in a circus in Germany and then – after disasters, adventures, and a shipwreck – make their way to America, where they become stars of the Ringling Brothers’ famous circus. For ages 7-10.

Find discussion questions, lesson plans, and a list of web sites to accompany The World’s Greatest Elephant.

In Kate DeCamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant (Candlewick, 2009), ten-year-old orphan Peter Augustus Duchene learns from a fortuneteller that the sister he thought was dead is still alive – and that an elephant will lead him to her. That night a magician disastrously conjures up an elephant, who crashes through the roof of the town opera house. A dark, complex, and miraculous tale for ages 8-13.

For an accompanying lesson plan, see “Six Magical Activities.”

I love J.P. Martin’s now-classic Uncle (New York Review of Books Children’s Collection, 2007). Uncle is a millionaire elephant who wears a purple dressing gown, has a B.A., lives in a ramshackle castle called Homeward (“think of a hundred skyscrapers all joined together”), and presides over a kingdom filled with weird and wonderful characters. For ages 8-12 (and a great read-aloud). Also see the sequel, Uncle Cleans Up.

Philip Brooks’s Hannibal: Rome’s Worst Nightmare (Franklin Watts, 2009) in the “Wicked History” series is the story of the Carthaginian general who famously led a troop of elephants over the Alps to attack Rome in the Second Punic War. For ages 10 and up.

Ian Redmond’s 48-page The Elephant Book (Walker Books, 1991) is an excellent non-fiction overview of the elephant, illustrated with color photographs. For ages 9 and up.

For teenagers, see George Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant,” based on his experiences as a government official in imperial Burma in the 1930s. The essay can be found in Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays (Penguin, 2003) or online.

For a related lesson plan, see “Shooting an Elephant: George Orwell’s Essay on his Life in Burma.”

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3 Responses to “Appreciating Elephants By Becky Rupp”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Parent at the Helm, Parent at the Helm. Parent at the Helm said: Sept. 22 is Elephant Appreciation Day. Check out terrific resources from Becky Rupp and mark your calendar…and,… […]

  2. Hi there, I am delighted to see my book, "How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head" mentioned in your list of elephant related books for the home-schoolers. Thanks very much.

    • Hello, thanks for writing, and you're quite welcome. I'm very glad you're delighted! Rebecca Rupp is a wonderful resource collector, and yours was included in a round-up of the best for Elephant Appreciation Day! I hope many home educators – and teachers – took advantage of the list.
      All best,

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