The Elephant's Pillow

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A story about bedtime rituals

The imperial elephant, known far and wide as one of the grandest sights in the kingdom, hasn’t been the same since the old Emperor died. One day a rich merchant’s son decides he wishes to see the magnificent animal for himself. What he discovers is that the elephant is having terrible trouble sleeping. Can a spoiled boy who is not used to doing ...
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A story about bedtime rituals

The imperial elephant, known far and wide as one of the grandest sights in the kingdom, hasn’t been the same since the old Emperor died. One day a rich merchant’s son decides he wishes to see the magnificent animal for himself. What he discovers is that the elephant is having terrible trouble sleeping. Can a spoiled boy who is not used to doing things for others find a way to solve the riddle of the elephant’s insomnia?

This soothing story by Diana Reynolds Roome, based on a bedtime tale invented by her father after his travels in the East, is charmingly illustrated by Jude Daly, whose distinctive style has won her admirers around the world.

Sing Lo, a wealthy boy living in Peking, goes to visit the late emperor's Imperial Elephant and tries to cheer him up.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Contemporary in their perspectives, jewel-like in their palette, Daly's (Gift of the Sun) exquisite illustrations nonetheless sing of the ancient East as depicted in Chinese scrolls and Indian miniatures, where tiny figures people panoramic landscapes. Against this backdrop, debut author Roome unfurls a narrative that bears the comfortable tone of an oft-told tale. Sing Lo, a pampered Chinese boy, demands to see "the greatest sight of all," an elephant who once carried the emperor and now lies forgotten in a rural temple, unable to sleep. Stirred out of his selfishness, the boy wonders what the creature needs. First he brings sweet buns, then a drink, then a giant silken pillow. Each task tests Sing Lo's newfound generosity as well as his intelligence; for example, he prepares the drink guided by the cryptic clue "honey above, ginger below, milk between." (In this example, Daly illustrates each item in the style of a Chinese ink signature stamp.) As Sing Lo tries to figure out why the elephant can't sleep, his connection with the animal grows, providing a subtle message for children about the rewards of altruism. Young readers will also enjoy the role reversals as it falls to the boy protagonist to put the imposing elder to bed. Ages 4-8. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Wishing to see "the greatest sight of all," young Sing Lo in long-ago Peking is told of the Emperor's Imperial Elephant. Unfortunately, since the emperor died, the elephant hasn't slept and has become ill-tempered. Sing Lo suggests to Li, his rickshaw man and informant, that they take the elephant a present. They first try his favorite buns, which he eats. Then a drink, "honey above, ginger below, milk in between," suggests the caretaker priest. Sing Lo collects this, which the elephant sucks up eagerly, but is still restless. Finally Sing Lo decides the elephant needs a fine pillow instead of old straw. Resting on it, with Sing Lo on his back scratching his ear, the Imperial Elephant sleeps at last. Daly's stylized colored illustrations of this sentimental tale based on a bedtime story told to the author by her father suggests rather than imitates some of the story-telling illustrations of Southeast Asia. Landscapes are gently modulated and bare with distant conical mountains. What buildings there are remind us of scroll paintings; clothing is ambiguous. The elephant wears its decorated blanket royally in the kingdom of the author's imagination. 2003, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Ages 4 to 8.
— Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2-In long ago Peking, Sing Lo demands to sit on the back of the Imperial Elephant. The animal, unable to sleep since the old Emperor's death, has turned despondent and nasty. The spoiled boy's selfish interest motivates him to understand the creature, and by trying to encourage it to sleep, he experiences empathy. He feeds the elephant its favorite buns, concocts a special bedtime drink, and intuits the necessity of a yellow silk pillow. Finally drowsy, the elephant uses its trunk to lift Sing Lo up to its back, and the boy knows just what to do: he scratches the beast behind its ear as it falls asleep. Not only does this satisfying story mirror a familiar bedtime ritual with the child playing the parent's role, but it also revolves around several elements of keen interest to many youngsters. The appealing narrative is gentle and sweet and the stylized paintings enhance its tone. From elephant trunk to rickshaw handles, Daly's use of curves suggests softness, and the artwork's willowy, serene appearance greatly bolsters the story's sense of calm. Stunning any time, this delightful picture book is especially soothing as a bedtime story.-Liza Graybill, Worcester Public Library, MA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Since the emperor died, the imperial elephant has had insomnia and nothing that's done for him seems to help. Sing Lo, usually a self-involved child, tries to soothe the elephant and after several attempts finds just the right bedding-a soft yellow silk pillow-to lull the him until he's fast asleep. The illustrations are the very best part of this tale-filled with reds that jump into your lap and shades of gold that fill the pages with a richness befitting the imperial settings. The most glorious scene is the double-page spread showing the royal parade with the Emperor riding the elephant. A rather mundane retelling brought to life by the rich vibrancy of the illustrations. (Folktale. 4-7)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374320157
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/3/2003
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Diana Reynolds Roome is a freelance writer who grew up in Wales and England and now lives in Mountain View, California.

Jude Daly has illustrated many books for children, including The Star-Bearer. She lives in Cape Town, South Africa.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2003

    Elephant's Pillow

    I love this story! So does my daughter. We read this book and admire the change that Sing-Lo experiences as he goes from 'taker' to 'giver.' Sing-Lo meets the emporer's elephant and makes it his personal quest to help the animal rest. A lovely tribute to the author's father, it is well-written and a great family read. The illustrations are a perfect compliment to this unique and valuable story. I recommend it to anyone with school-age kids.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2003

    Elephant's Pillow

    We received this beautiful book as a gift and enjoy reading it with our preschooler. The story introduces us to a young, wealthy, seemingly selfish little boy named Sing-Lo. He makes a journey to visit the famed Emporer's elephant only to discover that the animal is suffering since the death of his beloved master and as a result the elephant hasn't slept at all. The little boy makes a marvelous transition to caregiver when he makes it his personal mission to help the elephant rest. This was a timely story for our family as we begin to teach our little one what it means to be a gracious participant in society. This valuable lesson is taught with each reading. It broadens the little world of a child to understand how we all affect each other. How something, big or small, can make a positive difference in the lives of others. We love this book. The bold, vivid color of each illustration complements the magnificant text. I highly recommend this book for children of all ages. A beautiful book to send them to dreamland. And it's lesson was not lost on me either! Enjoy it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2003


    Sun washed yet brilliant the unique illustrations of South African artist Jude Daly enhance this story of how a young boy learns to be helpful. Sing Lo is the son of one of the wealthiest merchants in Peking. He's a rather spoiled child who has been cosseted since birth. One day during an outing in his rickshaw Sing Lo becomes bored, and asks his driver, Li, what might be the greatest sight of all. Upon learning that this extraordinary sight might be the Imperial Elephant, Sing Lo determines that is precisely what he wishes to see. Cautioned by Li that the animal is reputed to be bad tempered since the death of the Emperor, Sing Lo decides to take him a gift of buns 'glazed with honey and sprinkled with poppy seeds.' When Sing Lo delivers them he learns that the elephant hasn't slept since the Emperor died. What can Sing Lo possibly do to bring rest to the unhappy animal, and is he willing to expend time and energy to bring comfort to another? This story, which is based on a bedtime tale told to the author by her father, is as relevant today as it was years ago.

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