Erica’s Elephant, by Sylvia Bishop, is a book I came across purely by chance. I happened to see a review of it on another site, and was instantly hooked, so ordered it there and then. And I’m so glad I did.
Erica is a girl who lives alone (sssh, social services) because her Uncle Jeff (‘the only family she had’), a forgetful ornithologist, went off on an expedition to find the Lesser Pip-footed Woob two years ago and hasn’t come back. He left her some money, of course – he wasn’t that cruel – but by the morning of her tenth birthday, Erica only has £30.42 left. Uncle Jeff has sent her a birthday present though: an Elephant. The Elephant doesn’t speak (this isn’t Disney) but he does communicate pretty effectively through his noise TRONK. Before long, Erica and the Elephant are firm friends, though Erica, a very practical child, does have to face up to the knotty problem of how she’s going to feed him on zero money.
This is an utterly charming book, with overtones of Joan Aiken, one of my very favourite writers. Like Aiken, Sylvia Bishop neatly sidesteps ‘real life’ aspects, such as how on earth an 8-year-old child could have lived on her own for two years without anyone interfering. The reader doesn’t care about that kind of thing: what we care about is the Elephant, and how he and Erica can stay together. He is the one in danger, since it appears that Uncle Jeff neglected to obtain a Licence for him, and so the Department of Exotic Animals and Hats (a wonderful title if ever there was one) is determined to send him to the zoo. Along the way, Erica has to deal with a nosy neighbour, a paying audience, and a terrible betrayal.
The illustrations by Ashley King are cute too, though I felt they were very much ‘on trend’ and I’d have liked a slightly more classic feel. That’s very much down to personal preference though, and I’m sure that any young readers who happen across this gorgeous story will be captivated just as I was.
Erica’s Elephant is out now in hardback, published by Scholastic, and would make a truly wonderful Christmas present for any young reader.