An ancient tale of the Bulu people of Africa tells the story of an elephant who challenges everyone to a wrestling match. The elephant believes that he can not be defeated, and one by one wrestles each of the strongest creatures to the ground. Finally, a tiny bat defeats the elephant by flying into its ear. A monkey, who was announcing the match on his talking drum, sits in a tree nearby. The enraged elephant took the monkey’s drum and smashed it to bits after his defeat, which is why no one sees monkeys playing the drum and elephants are afraid of bats.
This is a retelling of that tale on a backdrop of intriguing “scratch illustrations”, pictures comprised of many pencil-like colored strokes on a black background. This style of illustration did surprisingly well at setting the tone for the book, and allowed for excellent detail. However, children that are used to bright-colored illustrations, especially younger children, may have some difficulty keeping their attention on these illustrations with their muted tones.
The text is fairly light and easy to read, averaging between 4-6 lines per page. This makes it easier to keep very young children interested in the story, while still presenting enough of a story to keep the older kids interested.
I chose this book because my three-year-old son loves animals, and because it’s a story that can be retold over and over again even when he gets older. The text didn’t seem to catch his attention much at this point, but he eagerly turned pages to see which animals were revealed on each. Aside from the aforementioned creatures, this story also features a leopard, rhinoceros, and crocodile.
Every couple of weeks I’ll go to the library and browse through picture books trying to find good books for my son. Generally, the criteria are that it must have something he’s interested in, and have a certain level of text in the story. Text that’s along the lines of Hop on Pop is just plain too simple for him – he loves rhymes, but has to have a little bit of story with it. On the flip side, if I find anything that takes more than about 30 seconds between page turns he gets impatient and quickly loses interest.
I really wasn’t sure whether or not The Elephant’s Wrestling Match would be a good balance for him. The text was about the right level and it had animals, but I wasn’t sure about the style of the illustrations. As it turns out, it took him a little bit longer to get into the pictures in this book than in some of the more brightly-colored ones, but once I named the animals to him he snuggled in and listened intently while tracing the lines on each of the animals with his finger.
Overall, this book seems like it would be an excellent choice for kids aged about 3-5. Any younger than my son would almost undoubtedly not have the patience or interest in this style of illustration, while kids much older than five may lose interest in the story fairly fast. One plus of the kind of story is that my son is still amazed that the tiny bat defeated the giant elephant – he loves to hear about little things accomplishing big things. This is a great story for kids that can get into illustrations that aren’t done in big, bold colors and a definite favorite for the story line.