Values: Hope, Compassion and Sustainability.
This is a beautiful, non-fiction book telling the story of the heroic elephant, Bandoola, and James Howard Williams (or 'Elephant Bill'). It is a true story which celebrates compassion, hope and sustainability. The story takes place in Myanmar (then Burma) during WW2 and will spark children and adults' interests alike. William Grill wrote and illustrated this book after becoming fascinated with Elephant Bill's story and also visiting Myanmar to experience the country and culture.
The book caught my eye for three reasons. Firstly, it takes place in Myanmar during WW2. My grandfather was posted there during WW2 as a pilot for the British airforce and had some fascinating stories to tell. Secondly, I went to Myanmar in the school holidays of Christmas 2019 to not only see where he had been, but travel this stunning country. Thirdly, the illustrations, page layouts and texts are irresistible in the same way as Grill's Shackleton's Journey book which I already own.
There are so many Values which can be explored through this text. Firstly, the Value of hope. I have chosen it as it weaves its way seamlessly through the story. When conflict hit Myanmar during WW2 and the Japanese invaded, Williams, Bandoola and his Burmese friend Po Toke (an 'oozie' (elephant rider)) led an escape that would make history. They escorted refugees, oozies and elephants away from the conflict and saved many lives in the process. The journey is shown to be arduous and dangerous, and yet Williams never gives up hope. He places huge trust in both people and elephants to reach safety. Even when he was criticised for his foolish plan, Williams did not falter and went on to become a wartime hero in his own right.
The second Value I have chosen to look at is compassion. Williams and Po Toke changed the way many elephants were trained in Myanmar at the time with their compassionate and empathetic methods. Williams learnt about 'kheddaring' which consisted of beating and starving elephants until they learnt to obey humans; he opposed this treatment and actively sought to teach others there was another way. Alongside Po Toke, he showed that when elephants are trained with kindness, patience and love, they grow to be strong and gentle creatures - such as Bandoola. Williams showed compassion throughout his whole life in the way he treated others and this theme runs throughout the book.
Finally, the Value of sustainability. Grill constantly raises the reader's awareness of both the future (or plight) of elephants through statistics and narrative explanation. He also offers an insight into the timber industry and how elephants are still used in this way; Grill's research shows that this offers many advantages including safety from poachers and kheddaring which is sadly still happening in some places. I find that many children are very interested in, and saddened by, our changing planet including animals which are becoming extinct or endangered. This book offers are current and accessible way of understanding the strength, power and decline of the elephant population. It raises questions of how humans can play a greater and more urgent role in sustainability to ensure that elephants are protected. The book is factual, yet elicits discussion and empathy.
I hope that every school and library has the opportunity to get hold of this magical book. Myanmar is going through a terrible political and humanitarian crisis at the moment and this book highlights the kindness of the people as well as the wealth of history and culture that exists there and should not be forgotten. I bought this book at Christmas and instantly bought another copy for a loved one; it is a book that will be treasured for years to come. I am already excited about weaving it into my WW2 topic with Year 6 next year!
If you want a copy, try getting hold of it here where profits go to independent bookshops.