Desert Elephants by Helen Cowcher

“In Mali, West Africa, the last remaining desert elephants follow the longest migration route of any elephant in the world. THeir largest circular route is 300 miles long across harsh land just south of Sahara desert. When the dry season begins, they start their journey for water. Their lives depend on it.”

This 2011 nonfiction picture book tells the story of the desert elephants of the Sahel. These elephants live in a area called the Gourma in central Mali. The tribes that live in this same area are the Dogon, Fulani, and Tuareg peoples. The book tells how the elephants migrate to find water during the dry season and during the rainy season, and it also tells about the tribal peoples’ efforts to live in harmony with the elephants and to not disturb them.

The illustrations are lovely, showing the beauty of the elephants and of the people that live near them. the vibrant colors in the people’s clothing and environment will help to dispel the image of desert Africa as a land of sand-colored tents and fabrics and not much more. In an author’s note at the end of the book, Ms. Cowcher says, “These dramatic textiles are another way of communicating. Designs can include popular goods like fans, phones, stoves, or water pumps or more traditional symbols like hands, fingers, or eyes.”

The book also shows the importance of radio communication in the parts of the world where many of the people are illiterate and are spread out over miles of territory. “The radio tells people about how to protect the land they share with the elephants, gives them advice on health and education, and broadcasts programs about women’s issues. . . Radios also play soap operas and music.”

Curriculum and unit study uses for Desert Elephants: deserts, elephants, mammals, Africa, North Africa, West Africa, the Sahel, the Sahara, Tuareg, Dogon, Fulani, Black History Month, environments, conservation, water.

Nonfiction Monday, a round-up of reviews of children’s nonfiction books is hosted to day at Capstone Connect.

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