THE GREAT ELEPHANT CHASE
by GILLIAN CROSS
Reviewed by Miss Daunt
STAR RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
RECOMMENDED YEAR GROUP: 6
INTERESTS: elephants, animals, pets, adventure, America
THEMES: perseverance, good vs. bad, loss, self-worth, friendship & loyalty, honesty & trickery
IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU’LL LOVE:
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth
MY THOUGHTS: an adventure with twists and turns
This is the story of Tad, Khush (the elephant) and Cissie. Without spoiling the story, Tad finds himself in the company of Cissie and Khush and before long they are on the run across America. As you can imagine, keeping the whereabouts of an elephant secret isn’t easy, and the trio is chased by a couple of particularly unpleasant characters. The story tells of their attempts to escape and reach their freedom.
Some context — I love elephants (the film ‘Water for Elephants’ is one of my rewatchables) so when I saw the title I knew I had to read this one. It didn’t disappoint. I was rooting for the trio the whole time. It became clear who Khush thought of as his real owner and the bond is something every elephant-loving, pet-owning child dreams of. I hated any time a bullhook was used (the desired reaction, I’m sure) and loved the parts where Khush showed his personality. Cross managed to show this perfectly through his actions, and he became a character in his own right. Cissie and Tad seem to be opposites but they complement and need each another, in time. I really enjoyed the contrast in their actions and speech, and how many of the other characters they met along the way seemed to quickly see this too. It’s interesting that Cissie (the girl) is the more dominant character whereas Tad (the boy) is gentler and hesitant — I think this is an opportunity to tackle stereotypes. There was a good mix of predictable and unpredictable moments; moments with heart, with humour and plenty with tension. The book is written in 3rd person narrative with a focus on Tad, interspersed with letters from Cissie to her friend Ketty (whose house they are headed for). It works well to show both perspectives and advances the plot at certain points. At times it can get frustrating (almost getting caught, escaping, repeat) but if you’re that far in, you’re hooked and want to know how the story ends.
This book is, in my opinion, best suited to Year 6 children: it is written in a fairly formal style, with probably too much unfamiliar vocabulary for younger children to comprehend, and there’s a need for some contextual understanding too (it is set in America in 1881, so plenty of geographical and historical references).
I think it would make a great independent or whole-class read. There are some opportunities for work around it (discussion of characterisation; debate about the keeping and treatment of animals; narrative with letters; building suspense; geography and history of America; designing boats in D.T.), but personally I would save it ‘just’ for enjoyment.