There’s literally an elephant in the room and it is ruining Olive’s little family in Peter Carnavas’ exquisite first novel.
Ever since Olive’s mother died, her father hasn’t been the same. He carries around with him an all-consuming sadness, a sadness that Olive imagines to be a huge, grey elephant. Shadowing his every move, the elephant weighs him down in everything that he does, it’s there at breakfast, it follows him to work and sits next to him at home.
Desperately wanting and needing her dad back, Olive has to get rid of the elephant. But how can somebody so small chase away something so big? With the help of best friend Arthur and a grandad who is weighed down with his own sadness, Olive has a plan. Carrying a secret of her own, will Olive be able to erase the grey from her family’s lives and replace it with colour…
Gently addressing the affects of grief and depression on adults, The Elephant is a touching and comforting read that embraces the healing power of kindness and reminds us that even in the darkest times life always has a purpose, a reason to live and to go on. It takes skill to be able to take such a difficult subject and make it accessible, relatable and understandable to young children and Carnavas does this wonderfully.
Never have I have read a book where such few words carry so much emotion and poignancy. Beautifully illustrated with black and white line drawings that seamlessly convey immense happiness one moment and heart-aching sadness the next, Carnavas’ kind and thoughtful story of a close knit family dealing with the aftermath of the death of a loved one will break your heart and then gradually piece it back together again. Heart strings are tugged at and lumps in the back of the throat are to be expected as each short chapter reveals a bit more behind the grief and sadness that is engulfing this little family.
At the centre of it all is Olive; resilient, optimistic, honest and brave. Everything feels raw and real as she tries to pick up the pieces of her broken family. No child should ever be responsible for trying to ‘fix’ a parent but it is easy to understand Olive’s reaction to her father’s sadness. Determined to banish the grey from the lives of those closest to her, she sets about healing broken hearts and minds using gramophones, typewriters, paper planes and bicycles. Whilst many hearts and minds are not as easy to heal as Olive’s father’s - and some may never be healed, depression is a very complicated illness, The Elephant ultimately delivers the uplifting message that everything can be okay in the end.
Sadness, in all its forms, is not picky about who it affects and as such it is essential that children have access to books like this that open up conversations and tackle issues around mental health, grief and depression. It is a beautiful story to share with younger children or for children of 7+ to enjoy independently. If a loved one is suffering from depression or grief this would be the perfect book for a family read, just remember to bring tissues.
Recommended for 7+.