"'We were looking for food,' Ruby says, 'my family and I. But I wandered off and got lost and went too close to the village.' Ruby looks at me, eyes wide. 'I was so scared when I fell into that hole.'
"'Of course you were,' I say. 'I would have been scared too.'
"'Me too,' Bob admits. 'And I like holes.'
"'The hole was huge.' Ruby pokes her trunk through the bars and makes a circle in the air. 'And guess what?' She doesn't wait for an answer. 'The water was all the way up to my neck and I was sure I was going to die.'
"I shudder. 'What happened then?' I ask.
"'I'll tell you what happened,' Bob says darkly. 'They captured her and put her in a box and shipped her off and here she is. Just like they did with Stella.' He pauses to scratch an ear. 'Humans. Rats have bigger hearts. Roaches have kinder souls. Flies have--'
"'No, Bob!' Ruby interrupts. 'You're wrong. These humans helped me. When they saw I was trapped, they grabbed ropes and they made loops around my neck and my tummy. The whole entire village helped, even little kids and grandmas and grandpas, and they all pulled and pulled and...'
"Ruby stops. Her lashes are wet, and I know she must be remembering all the terrible feelings from that day.
"'...and they saved me,' she finishes in a whisper.
"Bob blinks. 'They saved you?' he repeats.
"'When I was finally out, everyone cheered,' Ruby says. 'And the children fed me fruit. And then all those humans led me back to my family. It took the whole day to find them.'
"'No way,' Bob says, still doubtful.
"'It's true,' Ruby says. 'Every word.'
"'I've heard rescue stories like that before.' It's Stella's voice. She sounds weary. Slowly she makes her way over to Ruby. 'Humans can surprise you sometimes. An unpredictable species, Homo sapiens.'
"Bob still looks unconvinced. 'But Ruby's here now.' he points out. 'If humans are so swell, who did this to her?'
"I send Bob a grumpy look. Sometimes he doesn't know when to keep quiet."
-- from THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN
I have no idea whether it is merely coincidental, but given the impact of Stella's and Ruby's stories in THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, it is great timing for this Australian import of an informational picture book to show up Stateside just as Katherine Applegate prepares to accept her 2013 Newbery Medal for IVAN.
And before I start ranting about humanity, I want to urge you to buy and read this book. It's a powerful and memorable true story that is told so well through a gentle text and wonderful illustrations.
QUEENIE: ONE ELEPHANT'S STORY will be a superb vehicle for discussing animal rights issues with young people. On one hand, generations of children adored this famous elephant. She was very loved. On the other hand, this elephant was a slave.
Discussion Question: Can we characterize an animal as being enslaved?
I say, ask Julia in THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN:
"Mack stomps off. George, holding his mop, watches him leave. He rubs his eyes. He looks worried.
"'Dad,' Julia says, looking up from her homework. 'You know what my favorite sign was?'
"'Hmm?' George asks. 'Which one?'
"'The one that said "Elephants Are People Too."'"
I don't doubt that the fear I saw depicted when Kunta Kinte was abducted by slavers near the beginning of Roots was at least equaled in real life when Queenie was snatched from her mother by hunters. And put in a truck. And hoisted onto a steamship. And was, in due course, required to spend all day, every day (except Mondays) giving rides to humans in a zoo in Melbourne. For decades. And, yes, she was loved.
"But not everyone was kind to Queenie. Some children stuck pins in her trunk. Once some boys offered her fruit and nuts, but when she stretched out her trunk, they pulled the food beyond her reach. This went on for some time, until Queenie seemed to tire of the game and disappeared behind her house.
"A few minutes later, she returned and started teasing the boys, stretching out her trunk and then pulling it away just as they reached for it. The boys thought this was funny until Queenie sprayed them with a trunkful of dirty water she'd taken from the bath behind her house!"
I'm standing with what Bob, the stray dog in IVAN, says about humans. Sure, QUEENIE is a true story that began and ended before I was even born, so you might seek to argue that we are getting better. But it is during my lifetime that humankind has wiped out the vast majority of all large mammals on the planet. And destroyed the seas. And the birds and bees and fireflies are disappearing. The propensity for humans to exploit any body and any thing in the almighty search to make a buck has resulted, in my lifetime, in the wildness and the divine nature of our planet being turned into dreck.
Just last week I saw Bill Moyers interview Tim DeChristopher, and my jaw hit the floor when I saw the photos of the incredible, untouched bits of America that were being put up for auction to oil companies by Bush's Bureau of Land Management. Now I read about what happened to this marvelous elephant and, like Marvin Gaye, it just makes me wanna holler.
24 pages 978-0-7636-6375-9