Elephants feature widely in children's books, they are very endearing animals. Who could not love (to return to Dr Seuss for just a moment) the wonderful Horton (who gets his own wiki page even) as he lovingly hatches that egg and is rewarded with an elephant/bird hybrid that thinks he is its mummy. Today however we are meeting a much less salubrious character.
The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs (he of The Snowman fame) is the tale of an unnamed elephant who kidnaps a small baby and takes him on a crime spree.
The story doesn't actually call it a crime spree but it is. Along the way the elephant steals items of food from a variety of small businesses who's proprietors give chase. The best part of the story is on each page where they go "rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta, all down the road" with all the grown ups following along behind, and the reader gets to bounce the listening child on their knee with increasing enthusiasm.
While the essence of the story is great fun, and it can be considered amusing (assuming you don't take it too seriously) as the elephant sneaks his trunk into each shop to steal the buns, pies and ice-cream, the ending always somehow struck me as hypocritical: the elephant gets away with his criminal behaviour by drawing attention to the baby's lack of good manners, and all the grown ups stand there and chorus in agreement, "Just fancy that! He never once said please!" Now where parenting is concerned I have never been a fan of enforced politeness, such things should result from normal socialisation rather than the unpleasantly cute "What's the magic word?" ... give me one genuine 'thank you' over a hundred obligated ones.
But in the end all is forgiven and the mummy makes pancakes for everyone, which endears the story to me because that was always my speciality when it came to making a treat for the kids:
The elephant appears to get away scot-free and runs off down the darkening street to rob again another day. When the children were a little older however the book always did raise some interesting conversations about morality, right and wrong, and justice .
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