Balarama: A Royal Elephant

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rich watercolors and as-it-happens writing bring the story of India's royal elephants into sharp focus. On the Lewins' (Gorilla Walk) first trip to India, they hear about Drona, a beloved elephant chosen to head the parade of a religious festival. When they meet Drona face-to-face, they agree: “He is magnificent. We feel his aura strongly.” But between their first trip and their second, Drona is killed in an accident, and the focus shifts to Balarama, the newly chosen lead elephant. How will Balarama cope with the noise and the crowds? The Lewins' watercolor spreads emphasize India's brilliant light, deep purple shadows and the way the elephants dwarf their human handlers. They are honest about the cruelty of past capture methods, but include anecdotes to offset the story's sober moments (as when Drona tips over a truck carrying bananas “and ate all but one case”). Loose sketchbook spots appear intermittently, which will either provide light relief or distract from the more ambitious and realistic spreads. Still, for a clear view of a tradition dating back centuries, it's a valuable contribution. Ages 6–11. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
We join the Lewins in southern India as they visit an elephant camp and meet the mighty Drona, the lead Royal Elephant in the maharaja of Mysore's parade in the festival of Dasara. They decide to return for the parade but learn, to their sorrow, that Drona has died. The elephant chosen to replace him and carry the golden howdah is Balarama. The preparations for the parade are vividly described and depicted, as is the dressing of Balarama. Despite concern, Balaram performs beautifully in the spectacle, a worthy successor to Drona. Both artists use watercolors deftly to record the events. Ted's double-page scenes are replete with naturalistic details of both the elephants and the street action and architecture. The spectacular pomp is recorded with obvious appreciation and affection. Betsy uses her sketchy black ink lines for less lavish mini-dramas, like the group of children listening to an oft-told tale of a mischievous elephant, or those playing an impromptu game. She also records some of the dances that accompany the formal parades. These smaller images expand our understanding of the spirit of the spectacle, giving a more human dimension. The vision of each of these artists supplements that of the other for a complete interpretation. The end pages alone are knockouts. There is a map and an extensive introduction, plus additional facts about the elephants and a glossary and pronunciation guide. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—The Lewins continue their accounts of their worldwide adventures, here with two voyages to southern India. On their first trip, they visited a camp of trained elephants and their handlers in the forest and learned of the royal elephants used for festivals. They met Drona, who was to lead the annual Dasara procession in Mysore in the fall, and they were so enraptured that they decided to return for the festival. Upon their arrival, they learned that Drona had died, and that a new elephant had been chosen to lead the procession. Ted Lewin's brilliant, realistic watercolors capture the sun-drenched pageantry of Mysore as well as the dusty, filtered light of the forest, while Betsy Lewin's lively cartoons aptly depict the action and personalities involved. The story has pathos and tension, and the Lewins' narration takes readers into the forest, to the grounds of the maharaja's pale palace, along the parade route, and eye-to-eye with the majestic animals. Facts about elephants and brief biographies of some of the royal elephants are a welcome addition, and a glossary—with pronunciation help—is provided. If the art doesn't grab chidren, the elephants surely will. Wonderful.—Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, MD
Kirkus Reviews
On a tour of southern India, the authors are so entranced by Drona, the lead Royal Elephant of the maharaja of Mysore, and the stories his mahout (trainer) tells that the celebrated children's-book duo decides to return to southern India for the Dasara festival in order to see Drona lead an annual ceremonial procession. As in the pair's earlier Gorilla Walk (1999), illustration styles are mixed here, from Ted Lewin's rich, layered watercolors to Betsy Lewin's funny, sketchy vignettes. The artists' return is bittersweet: Drona has met with an untimely end but will be replaced by Balarama, another magnificent elephant that will bear the weight of the ceremonial howdah for the first time. An extended snapshot of the animal, its care and importance to the people of India, the book provides a pleasing mixture of the authors' observations, descriptions of local traditions and a stately depiction of the great beast, all holding together nicely in a flowing narrative. (map, endnotes, glossary) (Informational picture book. 7-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781600602658
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 56
  • Sales rank: 815,212
  • Age range: 6 - 10 Years

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    Ted and Betsy Lewin have spent four decades traveling throughout the world and fortunately for us have shared their observations and experiences with young readers. (Horse Song, Gorilla Walk, etc.) A Lewin book is always entertaining, exciting and educational. Such is surely the case with BALARAMA A ROYAL ELEPHANT.

    Basing this story on events that took place in and around Mysore, India between 1997 and 1998 the Lewins introduce us to a centuries old festival, Dasara, which is led by the Royal Elephant. In this case, during their first visit, the Royal Elephant was Drona.

    Intrigued by both Drona and the festival the Lewins decided to return for another year only to find that Drona had lost his life in an accident and a new lead elephant, Balarama, had been chosen. So, they witnessed Balarama's debut, the first time he carried the golden howdah, an intricately carved ceremonial carriage.

    The authors also take readers to an elephant camp where during route they look for the first time into an elephant's eyes. As the elephant returns their gaze, "The long, thick broom of her lashes descends and rises in a slow, solemn blink." We are also treated to stunning drawings depicting the dressing of the elephants for the parade, and finally the parade itself as brilliant colors march under a blazing sun.

    A photograph of the actual event is included, a Glossary and Pronunciation Guide, as well as a quote from The Times Of India noting that "for the first time in the Mysore Dasara procession" Balarama "gave a flawless performance."

    - Gail Cooke

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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