Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: Elephant in the Dark

Title: Elephant in the Dark [Based on a poem by Rumi]
Retelling by: Mina Javaherbin
Illustrator: Eugene Yelchin
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Review copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: August 25, 2015

Summary: A bold, humorous rendition of "The Three Blind Men and the Elephant", magnificently illustrated by an award-winning artist!

When the villagers hear of a huge and mysterious creature that has come all the way from India, they steal into the dark barn to find out what it is.

"It's like a snake!" says one.
"It's like a tree trunk," says another.
"No, it's like a fan!" argues the third.

Who is right? Which of them knows the creature's true shape?

Mina Javaherbin's charming and witty retelling combined with Eugene Yelchin's refreshingly brilliant illustrations bring this enlightened classic, inspired by Rumi's poem, vividly to life.

Review: Many people are familiar with the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. This is a fun new way to experience that tale. Mina Javaherbin has retold the story based on a poem written by Rumi about 750 years ago. The message is timeless and will have readers chuckling too.

The first thing I noticed about the book was the rich illustrations. To see several samples, visit Eugene Yelchin's page here. Yelchin used a wide variety of patterns and textures in each spread. There are so many things to see. I found the many different textures to be fascinating. There are also pages that are simple and streamlined. When the text focuses on one aspect of the elephant, the illustrations are narrowed in to that one thing and the background is plain. There are no distractions on those pages.

In the illustrator's note at the end Yelchin explained that he got his inspiration from Persian miniature painters. His own style is there, but the illustrations are clearly influenced by Persian art work from years past.

In their notes at the end, both the artist and writer speak of the meaning of this story and how it relates to their own lives. That is the best part about this story. It can speak a truth to readers of all kinds. This book will be one many people can easily connect with and share. Teachers could also use it effectively during fable units or when discussing point of view.

Elephant in the Dark is an upbeat and fun way to discuss different perspectives and points of view. I look forward to sharing it with staff and students.


  1. Thanks Crystal, yes Rumi like almost all other writers in the world took inspiration from other authors and classic stories to get his own message across. And like all other authors, when we do retell a story, we make it our own. That's the amazing magic of retelling.
    Rumi's story focuses on turning on the light to see the elephant. It's about the light of kindness in our hearts in order to put all the pieces together and truly listen to each other, so we can see what's true. If we get to know who Rumi really was, in the context of the time he lived in and the travels he had to make in his life, we will of course see his story under a better light. To this day I have not read the other versions of the Three Blind Men and that mice one too, I should check them out at some point since everyone is talking about it and it seems to be a point of connection here in the west. In the east, where I come from, most people know this story as an old Indian tale and then we all know it as a Rumi tale. I'm sure Rumi knew about the many versions from India, China and more. Because he studied literature and many subjects extensively for years at universities in Damascus,Syria. During his time these studies were similar to enrolling at say, Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford . He was actaully sent abroad to study. He gained an equivallant of a PHD and returned to Konya to teach. He did teach, in a similar post as what we call a tenured professor these days and then.... well things happened. Hope I can, one day, write an actual biography of his life instead of all these magical mystical stuff about him on the internet. To date, mysteriously so, it seems people are more interested in putting some sort of shroud over Rumi and they desire to cover him with mysticism. Maybe that serves a purpose for them? But Rumi as a mystic is far far from my understanding of this astute, worldly, and highly educated author who had to immigrate from his country of origin due to war and political pressure. I bring this poem to the children of my new country, America, as a peace offering from my old country, Iran. I bring it as a tool of how we can live in our global village peacefully together. Use this story to see the value of listening to opinions which may seem completely opposite our own beliefs. Use this story to delve even further than listening, and see why is "that person" thinking the way he/she is thinking? Is it because of where they come from? What they have been in contact with? Is it because of their personal view of the objects and subjects?
    It's good to be blown away once in a while and understand that one's view could possibly not be the whole picture. With this story I want to give you that present. The present of thinking that what you know is true, from your vantage point, but it's not the entire story.
    And for people who do want to see the entire view, for children of all ages who are extremely curious about the complete view, well, there's only one way possible in seeing it all, and that is to simply listen to it all.
    To truly listen, with kindness and love. Go deep enough to actually put yourself in all vantage points so you can see what other's see and you can put the puzzle together and see it all. Cheers to knowledge and the knowledge seekers.

    1. I would so read that biography - whether written as a picture book or as a longer book with actual chapters. :)

  2. Wonderful review, Crystal. Mina...can't wait to read it and learn more about Rumi.