The World's Greatest Elephant

The World's Greatest Elephant

5.0 2
by Ralph Helfer
It’s unbelievable but true! Born on the same day in the same small, German circus town, young Bram and his elephant, Modoc, had a lifelong friendship that spanned over eight decades. But it was never easy. From the breakup of the circus to the shipwreck in the Indian Ocean that nearly cost them their lives, the bond between the boy and the elephant survived the


It’s unbelievable but true! Born on the same day in the same small, German circus town, young Bram and his elephant, Modoc, had a lifelong friendship that spanned over eight decades. But it was never easy. From the breakup of the circus to the shipwreck in the Indian Ocean that nearly cost them their lives, the bond between the boy and the elephant survived the most unimaginable trials. This true story of their adventures together, and eventual rise to circus stardom in the Ringling Brothers Circus, will be a treasure for animal lovers everywhere.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An astonishing account....Stunning." —Booklist, starred review
Based on a true story, this poignant tale of Bram, the son of an elephant trainer, and Modoc, an elephant, chronicles their lifelong friendship through shipwreck, fire, and the cruelties of a circus owner who tries to separate them. Watercolor paintings, awash in golden light and achingly real emotion, tug at the heart while plot twists make this a sure page-turner. (ages 6 and up)
The March 2006 issue of Child magazine
Publishers Weekly
Based on the actual life-long friendship between Bram Gunterstein and elephant Modoc, this riveting picture book chronicles the pair's incredible story. In the opening scene, Josep, an elephant trainer, cradles his baby, Bram, in the shadow of a towering elephant and her newborn, Modoc. "I can only hope these two will always be together," Josep says, in a prophetic statement. Muted hues of brown and gray, offset by sparing use of circus red, reflect the tale's sober tone. Separation remains a constant threat, personified by circus owner Mr. North, who becomes Modoc's cruel owner and refuses to take Bram with him. Lewin's (Peppe the Lamplighter) illustrations make the strong connection between elephant and boy nearly palpable: one full-bleed spread depicts a close-up view of Modoc's eye, reflecting Bram's face; another shows Bram and Modoc on a ship's deck, trunk and arm intertwined, gazing at the Statue of Liberty. Helfer compresses a decades-long story by highlighting such dramatic events as a shipwreck, a war and a fire; a couple of scenes, such as Mr. North's discovery of the pair in India, would feel like a Hollywood movie, except that all of the events actually occurred. Helfer's (The Island of Dr. Moreau) impeccable pacing keeps the suspense high as he builds the emotional connection between his two heroes-one human, one animal. An author bio reveals Helfer's own role in this often wrenching, ultimately heartwarming true story. Ages 6-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-From her early days in Germany to a starring role in America's Ringling Brothers Circus by way of shipwreck and months of teak hauling in India, Modoc's story matches her larger-than-life size. The elephant's life is intertwined with that of a boy with whom she was raised from infancy and who became her longtime circus partner. According to the book jacket, the author owned Modoc for the last 20 years of her life. The story is adapted from his adult book, Modoc. The large picture-book format is the typical choice for Lewin's fine watercolors, boldly portraying the dramatic episodes of the elephant's life and the story of friendship, separation, and reunion. This bold and heartwarming adventure tale should have wide appeal.-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A beautifully illustrated boy-and-his-elephant tale is dragged down by clunky storytelling and an overlong, literally incredible text. The eponymous elephant is Modoc, a female born at the same time as her trainer's baby boy, Bram. Bram and Modoc grow up together, performing in a German circus. But when the Wundercircus is sold to a ruthless American businessman who wants only the animals, separation looms. Bram stows away on the animal transport, and when the ship founders in a storm, he takes the opportunity to escape with Modoc. They float together for days, landing on the coast of India-how a ship bound from Germany to the United States could founder anywhere within floating distance of India is just one of many fatal credibility problems the story deals the reader. After a very long series of peregrinations and separations, the two friends are reunited at the compound of the author, a wild-animal trainer who clearly loves his elephants but needs serious editing. No amount of Lewin's beautiful renderings of the elephant can save this effort. (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-10)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.50(w) x 11.25(h) x 0.40(d)
860L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

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From the Publisher

"An astonishing account....Stunning." —Booklist, starred review

Meet the Author

Ted Lewin grew up in an old frame house in Buffalo, New York, with two brothers, one sister, two parents, a lion, an iguana, a chimpanzee, and an assortment of more conventional pets. The lion was given to his older brother, Don, while he was traveling as a professional wrestler, and he shipped it home. The family kept Sheba in the basement fruit cellar until Don returned and their mother convinced him to give it to the Buffalo zoo.

Ted always knew he wanted to be an illustrator. As a child he copied the work of illustrators and painters he admired, including N.C. Wyeth, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Velázquez, and Goya. When it came time to go to art school (Pratt), he needed to earn money to finance his education. So, following in his brother’s footsteps, he took a summer job as a wrestler—the beginning of a 15-year part-time career that eventually inspired his autobiographical book I Was a Teenage Professional Wrestler.

Ted’s career as an artist began with illustrations for adventure magazines, and it’s only over the last several years that he has devoted his time to writing and illustrating children’s books. “I’m having more fun doing this than anything I’ve ever done before,” he says. He is an avid traveler, and many of his books are inspired by trips to such places as the Amazon River, the Sahara Desert, Botswana, Egypt, Lapland, and India.

Ted and his wife Betsy live in Brooklyn, New York, where they share their home with two cats, Slick and Chopper.

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The World's Greatest Elephant 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is magnificent, just like the elephant's size. The strength of the bond between the boy and the elephant defies words. This is a must read. I've bought three copies as gifts. It is for all ages, and a true story which begs to be shared with all.