Reviewed by Hannah Wright
The Elephant in the Room by James Thorp is one of a kind. ‘It started with an “OOPS!”’… and what follows is a zany, psychedelic, surreal picturebook caper/mystery. Like a mashup between the visuals of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and the classic storytelling structure of There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly, this unique book is sure to delight, or at least intrigue, any child or class.
When Father Giant’s favourite elephant figurine is smashed, he is determined to find and punish the culprit. Things are not exactly as they seem, however, and Father Giant soon learns that often we need to look to ourselves before apportioning blame to others.
The story is told in a charming ABCB rhyming pattern which makes it perfect as a read-aloud. There is also no shortage of delicious vocabulary (‘quivering’, ‘thundered’, ‘hubbub’) and lovely internal rhymes (‘ouchy grouchiness’, ‘funny sunniness’, ‘rowdy cloudiness’) to discuss. The story begins with a recognisable set-up before quickly descending into surreal madness – Lady Ha-Ha falls out of the painting in which she had been riding a yak through a forest, for example. They are also joined by an anthropomorphised sun and storm cloud, plus a talking sofa and a somersaulting newt.
The anarchic caper is reminiscent of The Cat in the Hat, but the sublime illustrations elevate it to a new level. The use of a limited colour palette (black, green, blue, purple), with splashes of almost impossibly neon orange, gives the book a modern feel while simultaneously recalling the psychedelic illustrations of the 1960s. If you are a fan of Bethan Woollvin’s bold illustrative style, I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.
I will be sharing this with my nine-year-old class as a read-aloud, just for fun. I think it has a simple enough structure to engage children in the Early Years while also being stylish and humorous enough to keep the interest of children up to Year 6 – perhaps the ideal book to share across a school or in Assembly? Click here for a taster.