Reviews for Faithful Elephants : A True Story of Animals, People and War

Publishers Weekly Reviews 1988 August #2
A zookeeper narrates the story of how there came to be graves at the zoo: when Tokyo was showered with bombs during the bleak days of World War II, the authorities feared that if the zoo were destroyed, the animals might accidentally be freed and wreak havoc on the city. So they decided that all the zoo animals would be killed. But the elephants wouldn't eat the poisonous food they were offered, and the needles in the syringes containing poison broke before they could penetrate the elephants' rough skin. So the elephants were starved to death, a slow and painful process watched by the zookeepers who loved them. An upsetting story for children or adults, this powerfully conveys the deadly side effects of war. Lewin's watercolors show the massive gray bodies in their state of decline; it is impossible not to appreciate the heartbreak of the animals' plight. But this is a book that provokes questions about the nature of death and dying (children may read into this that some may be killed for the greater good of all), and so should be chosen with care. All ages. (August) Copyright 1988 Cahners Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews 1988 November
Gr 3-8 In an unnamed war, Tokyo was being bombed ``day and night.'' The Army commands that the dangerous animals in the Tokyo Zoo be poisoned so that they might not escape in the event of a direct hit (witness a double-page spread of a dead tiger, a bear, a lion, and a large snake). When it is the elephant's turn to die, he refuses to eat food which has been poisoned and his skin is too thick to take an injection of poison, so the decision is made to starve him to death. Two more elephants must follow, and the real tension produced in the story is the pathos surrounding the torturously slow death of these big pets by depriving them of all food and water. No punches are pulled: these dying elephants use some of their last strength to perform a trick for which they have been customarily rewarded with food and water. They die, horribly, and are mourned by the zookeepers who ``raised their fists to the sky and implored `Stop the war! Stop the war! Stop all wars!' '' Lewin's lustrous watercolors soften the hard edges of the story: his backgrounds appear as if washed with tears. This is an odd choice for a children's book. Indeed, the High Moral Purpose here must be interpreted as having more to do with the heartlessness of the zoo keepers than the cruelty of war. Yet, to follow logically, it would seem spurious for a writer to suggest that children ``realize the human ideal'' so that elephants will never go hungry again. And it is also somehow churlish to implicate children in the stupidities of adults. No amount of rhetorical conceit will make Faithful Elephants any more than a book which demonstrates an immoral cruelty to animals. Christina L. Olson, Beverly Hills Public Library Copyright 1988 Cahners Business Information.