by Steve Wolfson & Heleen Brulot
Argami Productions 11/25/2013
Age 4 to 8 32 pages
“Nicki is not so happy about having to move to Zimbabwe, Africa. She is not sure what to expect and is truly surprised when one of the first things she sees is an elephant at the airport.”
“Nikki thought she was waking up, but maybe it was a dream. Why else were her parents sleeping in her bedroom and why she was sleeping sitting up in a chair.”
Nikki’s mother gets a job that takes the family to Zimbabwe, Africa. Like most young kids, Nikki does not want to leave her home and her friends. She wonders how she will hang her posters on a mud wall. She is also fearful of all the wild animals that she believes will be everywhere. Nikki might be right. At the airport an elephant—a green elephant with red and yellow spots—takes her suitcase off the belt and walks away with it. Dad insists there are no elephants in the city.
In her new home, Nikki sees a menagerie of animals come through the bushes defining her backyard. Rhinos, lions, zebras, baboons, and an ostrich run and play in front of Nikki’s bedroom window. Dad sternly insists there are no wild animals in the city. Nikki spends all her time playing with the elephant from the airport, much to her parent’s dismay. They never see any of the animals that hide in the bushes until Nikki is alone.
The first reading of Elephants at the Airport was confusing. Why could only Nikki see the animals that were real enough to play with her? The title on the cover states, Elephants at the Airport and nothing more, not even the author and illustrator’s name (that is perfectly okay). A closer look at the credit and title pages shows a subtitle: Once Upon a Time in Zimbabwe. Now I get it. The story is a fable. Nikki has no desire to move to Africa and is terrified of the unknown. To make things worse, a green elephant—with red and yellow dots—grabs her suitcase. Dad refuses to believe his child.
Zimbabwe is not a place to fear, but a magical place for kids where the animals entertain Nikki in front of her bedroom window. The story lacks development. Mainly Nikki and her father are in a stalemate over wild animals in the city in which they live. Dad even takes Nikki to a game park—actually a mechanism to end the story. Nikki declares the elephants were great, but her favorite is still the airport elephant, which causes her dad to yell,
“There are NO elephants at the airport!”
Nikki replies that he is right; the elephant is now at their home. She then runs out to play with Airport. Nikki happily skips out of the house and her parents look out to see their daughter with something green and wonder . . . could it be? An acceptable ending I suppose. Kids will laugh and so might their parents.
To me, the ending just tells me the inevitable. An easy ending that does not develop the protagonist. Nikki should change by story’s end, but she changes on the first morning. It seems the character that might change is dad, a secondary character. Does he now believe wild animals are in the city? Does he now believe a green elephant with red and yellow spots plays with his daughter? Nikki folded her fears and her lack of enthusiasm for living in a new country too soon in the story.
Young children will like the imaginary playmate aspect of the story. They will like Airport, maybe even more so because of his coloring. They will most likely not care that the story is poorly constructed and in need of a good edit. Though they might want to know where the other elephants are at the airport.
I love the cover and really like the elephant. The artist draws a nice, realistic elephant. The illustrations are good. A few have what looks like paint smeared across the paper, making the image difficult to see. I think this is supposed to indicate speed—of the animals as they play. A few other images are mostly shades of brown with a bit of color, making it difficult to see what the image represents. That very well could be a printing problem, but in the end, whatever the problem, these spreads are not good. It really is a shame because the illustrations are extremely good.
[After watching the trailer, it is clear that the problem is with printing. The illustrations, every one of them, are gorgeous and detailed clearly in the trailer, but muddled on the page.]
Elephants at the Airport: Once Upon a Time in Zimbabwe takes a young girl out of her familiar surroundings and places her into a strange land of wild animals. Nikki quickly recovers from her fears and plays with the elephant from the airport. Dad is not happy, thinking his girl is isolating herself. She has a great time playing with what might or might not be an imaginary friendly elephant. I like the premise of the story. Elephants at the Airport has wonderful story potential but it needs work before I would purchase this adorable green elephant.
Learn more about Elephants at the Airport: Once Upon a Time in Zimbabwe HERE.
ELEPHANTS AT THE AIRPORT: ONCE UPON A TIME IN ZIMBABWE, Text copyright © 2013 by Steve Wolfson. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Heleen Brulot. Reproduced by permission of Argami Productions, Weston, FL.