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The White Elephant

The White Elephant

5.0 1
by Sid Fleischman, Robert McGuire

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How can a beautiful white elephant be a terrible curse?

Run-Run, a young elephant trainer, discovers the answer when he incurs the fury of the prince. The boy's punishment? The gift of an elephant, white as a cloud. From that moment forward, the curse reveals itself. According to tradition, so rare an elephant cannot be allowed to work for its keep. It is


How can a beautiful white elephant be a terrible curse?

Run-Run, a young elephant trainer, discovers the answer when he incurs the fury of the prince. The boy's punishment? The gift of an elephant, white as a cloud. From that moment forward, the curse reveals itself. According to tradition, so rare an elephant cannot be allowed to work for its keep. It is poor Run-Run who must feed the beast the hundreds of pounds of food it eats each day, and scrub it clean, and brush its pom-pom of a tail, and wash behind its ears, and, above all, keep it from doing any work.

Oh, if only Run-Run could make the magnificent white elephant disappear! Clever as a magician, he does—but the curse has tricks of its own for Run-Run.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fleischman (The Whipping Boy) offers a cleverly themed if sleepy story starring Run-Run, a boy in old Siam. His beloved old elephant, Walking Mountain, diligently works in the fields removing stumps to earn the lad enough money to feed him. One day, after the elephant sprays an ill-tempered prince with water, the royal punishes Run-Run with a "gift to curse" him: Sahib, an elephant whose white color renders him sacred. The prince's mahout orders Run-Run to treat the animal "like an honored guest," and to feed him the finest foods, even though the noble beast is not permitted to work to earn his keep. Following the palace mahout's directives to let Sahib do as he please, the boy unlocks the animal's leg chain in hopes he will run away. Instead, Sahib imitates Walking Mountain and goes to work removing stumps. Run-Run's fears of the sacred elephant being discovered abate when the creature wallows in red mud, disguising his true color. The story's action is scarce, save for scenes in which White Mountain rescues Sahib from an attacking tiger; and, again mimicking the old elephant's actions, Sahib prevents another tiger from killing the prince. Half-tone illustrations open each chapter with a key scene. Though the novel offers a rewarding portrayal of friendship and loyalty, and a satisfying denouement, some Fleischman fans may find it slow-moving compared with his other works. Ages 8-11. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Carrie Hane Hung
Run-Run, a young orphan boy, and his elephant work together to earn a living. One day, Walking Mountain, the elephant, sprays river water onto the prince who happened to be traveling by in a hunting party. The outraged prince threatens to shoot the elephant. Run-Run pleads for Walking Mountain's life and the vengeful prince decides to punish Run-Run with a "gift" that is to be delivered the next day. The next morning, as Run-Run is grooming and caring for Walking Mountain, the gift arrives. It is a sacred, white elephant named Sahib. The prince's curse on Run-Run is to care for the white elephant, who must be well cared for by feeding it fine foods and grooming it regularly. Furthermore, the sacred elephant may not work; instead he must be treated with the utmost respect of an honored guest. Sahib has a mind of his own, which puts Run-Run on the spot from time to time. This is a warm story about a clever boy and the elephants and the family that they form.
Children's Literature - Greg M. Romaneck
Run-Run is a young mahout living in Siam. Day by day he tends to his elephant, Walking Mountain, as they try to eke out a humble life. One day, through a series of events, Run-Run offends a young prince. Rather than immediately punishing Run-Run, the prince offers him a strange gift in the form of a white elephant. Along with the gift comes a warning to feed and tend to the elephant in a princely way without using it for any humble labor. The white elephant becomes a great burden for Run-Run, who can hardly support himself let alone this great and seemingly lazy beast. However, over time, Run-Run and the white elephant come to know one another in ways neither of them could have guessed. Written in the expectedly charming style of Sid Fleischman, this title tells a story both exotic and universal in its nature. Run-Run lives a unique life in Siam but represents the pursuit of happiness and friendship that is so common to the human condition. Told with grace and care, this is a touching tale that will engage readers of all ages.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-Fleischman skillfully drops readers into the life of Run-Run, an orphan in old Siam who struggles to make a living as a mahout (elephant trainer) with Walking Mountain, his beloved old elephant. A cruel prince, accidentally sprayed with water by the animal, complicates Run-Run's already difficult life by giving him a gift that is really a curse-a white elephant. Somehow, Run-Run must take excellent care of Sahib, who is forbidden to work because he is sacred: "Wash the hair at his ears! Brush it! Use no harsh words. Do not scold him. Treat him like an honored guest!" the Prince's servant orders the elephant boy. "If you value your own skin, you will be a servant to Prince Noi's gift-." Sahib surprises the boy, however, with his intelligence and bravery, and, in the end, enables Run-Run to seek out a more hopeful future. This young-reader-friendly book features ample margins and generous line spacing, short chapters, and full-page black-and-white illustrations that give visual information. Fleischman successfully immerses readers in this ancient culture, creating clever and believable plot twists that bring the story to a satisfying but open-ended conclusion. Strong writing, interesting dialogue, and clear plot development add up to another fine Fleischman novel.-Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Punishment becomes reward in this original tale, set in "old Siam" and loosely related to the historical origins of the modern metaphor. Content to be the mahout for his beloved working elephant Walking Mountain, Run-Run, a "boy with dirty ears," pays for inadvertently letting his pachyderm splash a passing Prince by being given another elephant-this one white, and therefore sacred, exempt from any work. Feeding two huge animals is struggle enough, but what becomes a real challenge for Run-Run is keeping his new burden idle. Sahib, as he's named, turns out to be gregarious and so willing to follow Walking Mountain's lead that soon he's out pulling tree stumps too, despite Run-Run's frantic efforts to keep him chained up. The full-page pencil drawings on heavy canvas that McGuire pairs to Fleischman's Jungle Book-style prose nicely bring out the story's high spots, and Run-Run's infectious delight in being with his oversized companions. He even enjoys Sahib, to whom he must bid a sad good-bye after the elephant saves the same arrogant Prince from a tiger. A likely draw for young fans of elephants and exotic climes. (Fiction. 9-11)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The White Elephant

By Sid Fleischman

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Sid Fleischman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0061131377

Chapter One

A Smile for Run-Run

There, in old Siam, do you see the boy with dirty ears sitting as proud as a prince on the tall old elephant? Oh, how those two love each other! The boy, whose name is Run-Run, sometimes sleeps between the elephant's front legs, safe from the world.

But what a terrible mischief the elephant got that boy into!

It happened on a day like today, hot as an oven with its doors flung open.

They were returning from clearing the tangled stumps of aged jackfruit trees for the new mango plantation over on the hillside. The tall elephant would get a stump between his great yellow tusks and shove with his padded forehead. Out came the stump, squealing like a bad tooth.

"Walking Mountain!" the boy shouted with a smile, for that was the elephant's name. "A morning's work under this sun is enough, big brother! Your old bones ache, eh? Come, let us have a bath, great Walking Mountain."

Half a century old, was Run-Run's elephant, with his final set of teeth! Walking Mountain had carried the boy's father on his neck, and his father's father. Brave mahouts, they commanded elephants many times their size. Mahouts had been Run-Run's tutors. Now, only half grown, he, too, was a mahout, with his father's colored headdress packed away under his grandfather's porcelain amulet.

But how many years could Walking Mountainremain on his legs? One day he would lie down, lame and toothless, and refuse to get up.

In the river, Run-Run washed his ears and the red dust out of his hair, as if to avoid a scolding from his mother. He had been barely eight when she was mauled by a tiger. They say she'd fought the wild creature, even biting off his ear. Someday, Run-Run would meet that great cat, that awful, one-eared beast, and then, watch out, murderer!

"But, where are you, tiger?" Run-Run sometimes muttered. "Afraid to venture out of the jungle and show your ugly eyes around here, eh?"

Tight-lipped, he replied to his own question. "Dreamer! And what if he has been shot dead by a hunter? Aye, dead and eaten by flies!

"I bless the flies," he added.

Now he gave his head a toss, and his long and black hair wrapped itself around his neck like a wet towel.

Run-Run and the tall elephant turned up the road leading to his hillside village. Tucked far below the hazy teak mountains to the north, shady Chattershee would be hard for anyone in the kingdom of Siam to find. No one except the pariah dogs who could be heard barking as Walking Mountain shuffled by; no one except the fruit bats, the wild green parrots, and a tiger or two.

Summer was brief with airless days, bringing heat as fiery as dragon's breath. Dust rose in clouds like gnats.

Nevertheless, Run-Run had smiles for the world. The coins jingling in the pouch around his neck would buy grain for his elephant. Fresh hay, too, brought to the plantation by bullock carts from he knew not where. He'd slap his noisy coins on the counter and pick out a treat of spindly sugarcanes for his tall friend. And why not a fat, juicy piece of cane for himself, Run-Run, to chew?

Oh, how that great walking mountain could eat! Two hundred pounds a day. Three hundred! Hardly a blade of grass was left at the edges of the plowed fields to dine upon. For miles around, plantation elephants had browsed the tree branches up beyond reach. But being so tall, Walking Mountain could stand on his hind legs and stretch himself to amazing length to search out a high mango or luscious fruits dangling on the wild fig trees.

"Elephant boy!" called out the beekeeper, old Bangrak. He sat in the breathless shade of a flame tree. "Look! Here is a watermelon I grew for you in exchange."

"A thousand blessings!" exclaimed Run-Run, running his tongue around his lips. "In exchange for what, sir?"

"My wind chimes haven't struck a note in weeks. If I breathe more dust, I'll spit mud bricks! Give this road a river splash, eh?"

"Two watermelons," said Run-Run, for bargaining was as natural to him as breathing. Sometimes a trade in river water arose out of the choking April dust. He would be sorry to see the monsoon rains come and put his splendid business at an end.

"Did you say two melons?"

"Indeed, sir."

"Thief!" The old man wagged a dried hand in front of his face as if to clear a swirl of dust.

Said Run-Run, "I am ashamed of myself! Nevertheless, a melon for Walking Mountain. Another for me."

"Prince of rascals!"

"Two watermelons, large and sweet, or good-bye, friend of my father," the elephant boy replied.

Like an actor playing a part he loved, old Bangrak gave a snarl in disgust, but with a smile tucked into his white beard. For him, too, bargaining was a skill and an entertainment to be admired. It was relentless bargaining that had allowed him to send his son off to the city and to school. It was rumored that the boy could already read and write. Such an achievement was the talk of the village.

"Two watermelons are too much!" Old Bangrak insisted.

"Three would be more to my liking," said Run-Run.

"Scamp! Two! It is agreed!"

Run-Run called to his elephant. "Give an ear, Walking Mountain! To the river, magnificent one!"

Run-Run climbed to the elephant's neck and took his familiar place. With a light touch of the bull hook left to him by his father, Run-Run turned the elephant toward the river below. "Go!"

There Walking Mountain filled his long trunk with water. He hardly needed a command from Run-Run to lumber back to the village and spray. After several trips the red dust was settling over the road like a fresh coat of paint.


Excerpted from The White Elephant by Sid Fleischman Copyright © 2006 by Sid Fleischman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Sid Fleischman wrote more than sixty books for children, adults, and magicians. Among his many awards was the Newbery Medal for his novel The Whipping Boy. The author described his wasted youth as a magician and newspaperman in his autobiography The Abracadabra Kid. His other titles include The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, a novel, and three biographies, Sir Charlie: Chaplin, The Funniest Man in the World; The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West; and Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini.

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White Elephant 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im so gonna read this!!!!!