Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bashi, Elephant Baby by Theresa Radcliffe illustrated by John Butler

Text copyright © Theresa Radcliffe, 1997; Illustrations copyright © John Butler, 1997

This story relates the harrowing first day of life of an elephant calf on the African Plains.  Bashi is under the protection of his mother and the herd, comprising his aunts and his grandmother Lorato.  The herd heads to the waterhole where newborn Bashi, unsteady on his feet, becomes stuck in mud. As he begins to sink, Bashi starts to panic causing him to topple over. His mother tries to lift him out using her trunk, with no success.  Lorato, the matriarch of the herd, has been standing guard. She notices  three hungry lionesses, crouched and ready to pounce and seize the vulnerable prey. Lorato sends a rumble of caution to her daughter, who is now desperately trying to free Bashi . 
 This story is brief, but  not short on poignancy and drama; the boys were on the edge of their seats. The story concludes with Bashi lying peacefully next to his mother on the grass. Even after a year of frequent readings, the boys  still heave a sigh of relief  when little Bashi does in fact survive his first day of life.   As a strong adult, I was not af...<voice begins to quiver> affect...<lip begins to tremble> affected<loses it and begins to wail repeatedly, “BASHI, I WAS SO FRIGHTENED YOU WOULDN'T MAKE IT!”; regains composure and clears throat>affected by the story as much as my children. <looks around sheepishly>

John Butler’s illustrations are so beautiful and realistic, it is difficult to believe they are not photographs. As the reader, you feel as if you are right in the sweltering heat of the African plains observing the drama as it unfolds.  I am not familiar with Butler’s background, but he obviously has devoted a significant amount of time to studying wildlife to be able to draw such life-like animals and to recreate the elephants’ habitat with such precision. Check out the attention to detail in Butler’s illustration of the warthog at the waterhole.  
 I am simply awed by Butler's talent. I wish I could be an illustrator, but alas, I can only draw stick figures and even those stink.

Theresa Radcliffe and John Butler partnered for a  total of  5 other books in the series about the first days of  life of various animals: Shadow the Deer; The Snow Leopard;  Cimru the Seal;  Maya, Tiger Cub; Nanu, Penguin Chick.  We own every one of them and they are all equally as superb as Bashi, Elephant Baby and educational to boot. Kids will learn just how difficult it is for animals to survive the first days of life in the wild. Unfortunately, the books are out of print but you can purchase used copies online, as I did. Also, the wonderful Chicago Public library, my second home, has a copy of a few of the books. If you are a resident of Chicago you can go online to place a copy on hold and request that it be sent to your local branch for you to pick up.  www.chipublib.org.

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