Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What Elephant? by Geneviève Côté

I've discerned that one key to successful children's stories is to keep the kernel packed up tight. For example, by all means write a story about the elephant in the room, but really have that story be about poor George who comes home one day to find an elephant watching his TV and eating chocolate chip cookies. When George explains the problem to his friends, none of them believe him. Naturally-- elephants don't watch TV or eat chocolate chip cookies. So George has no choice but to go home again, and there he finds the elephant asleep on his bed, covered in newspapers, because the elephant has blown its nose on every single one of his bedsheets.

Geneviève Côté's What Elephant? goes on to tell the story of George's roommate from hell, who eats up all the food, lingers too long in the shower, takes up the entire (now broken) sofa, and steals the morning paper. Worse, George fears he's going crazy because he knows elephants don't actually do any of these obnoxious things, and he has nobody he can turn to. If his best friend Pip can see the elephant, he won't admit, being just as conscious as George is about saving face.

Côté has created a marvelous story with such wonder in its details-- I was particularly struck by George's prized collection of teapots, and George's teddy bear clutched in the elephant's trunk. The story's resolution is sweet and surprising, complete with a trek off into the sunset, but of course the matter is far from resolved, as we're left with the question of the talking pink poodle.