children all think the secret is something different – “a rope”, “a tree
branch”, “a marble”, “a scarf”, “a sandy wall” they cry, and begin arguing
until they are so angry they are shrieking at each other like a babble of
monkeys because each believes they were right. And then Grandfather came
outside carrying a candle and the children saw that each had been right but had
also been wrong.
what is the secret?” asked the children.
is for you to discover,” said Father.
as the children fall asleep, pondering, they set off on a magical adventure
flying on a mystical elephant with wings through to morning where they discover
a world where reality comes straight into our living rooms, it is lovely to
share a story that offers the suggestion of peace and hope. As the
elephant soars over the world’s landscapes showing the children its beauty but
also its ugliness, the children learn about people and the core thread of
humanity that binds us all together. The elephant is symbolic in many
religions, representing courage, hope, endurance and wisdom and so the parable
of The Blind Men and the Elephant is part of the story-telling of many
religions and cultures, making this re-imagining a story for all
riches of tradition, mythology and spirituality are woven into a wonderful
tapestry, beautifully captured by Anna Pignataro’s imagination in the
outstanding pictures, intertwined with imagery of the Asia and India where the
story first originated. The concept that we are all the same but different is a
difficult one for young people to grasp because they only see the external but
this partnership of Gervay and Pignataro (who also brought us Ships in the
Field) is so successful that the message it accessible to all. So much so
that it has been awarded the Blake Prize logo, an
annual Prize and Exhibition program for contemporary art and poetry exploring
the themes of spirituality, religion and human justice, and the first
children’s book ever to have been honoured in this way.
This is a book for all ages. The commonality of its story across
so many religions begs an investigation into why it would be – what is its core
message that has such universality? Going back to the originalstorycould spark a discussion about what is truth and
how our perception of events is dependent on our role within them and the lens
through which we are looking. Even though each picture is full of the richest
details, its true beauty only emerges when we look at it in its entirety.
I have a shelf on which I put the books that I think are going to be CBCA award
winners this year. This one is going onto that shelf!
story of two children who embark on an extraordinary journey on the wings of a
mystical white elephant, as they search for the humanity in all of us.
story is inspired by the parable of the blind man and the elephant found in
Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sufism and modern philosophy.
in this book is an exquisite work of art – a true harmony of text and
of the elephant are the parts of the truth and the tree of life is beautifully
depicted in Anna’s detailed illustrations.
the colour and vibrance of this book, the movement and the melding of all
dances with elephant wings, flying with tails whirling, legs outstretched,
swaying in a towering wall as we soar
over snowy mountain peaks.
so many layers in this book that I can see it having appeal to readers of
are revered in religion and respected for their prowess in war. Ever since the
stone age, there have been images of elephants in art and mythology surrounding
them. For many cultures they symbolise courage, hope, endurance, wisdom.
Elephants Have Wings crosses all borders, and has
relevance anywhere in the world today.
It’s no wonder this book has been
endorsed by the Blake Prize for art and poetry.
Prize is named after the legendary British artist and poet William Blake
(1757-1827). Established by Jesuit priest, Michael Scott and a Jewish artist,
Richard Morley to create significant works of spiritual art in 1951 in the
search for understanding and peace. The Blake Poetry Prize was added in 2008.
motifs, symbols, pictures and texts that represent diversity and our universe,
Elephants Have Wings provides so much to think and talk about in the classroom.
Have Wings is
published by Ford Street Publishing. Find out more about this ‘peace
book for our time’ at author Susanne Gervay’s website.
As christmas approaches children everywhere are writing Santa with
their lists—but few I imagine, will be expecting an elephant with wings?
Award-winning children’s author Susanne Gervay, captures the
beautiful complexity and culture surrounding elephants, in her new book ‘Elephants Have Wings’—a perfect christmas gift for curious young minds.
Brimming with detail, fascinating facts and colourful illustrations, ‘Elephants Have Wings’
invites children to explore the history, culture, and complexities of
elephants. A deep respect and expanded view of these impressive
creatures encourages readers to cast fresh eyes on elephants. Imparting
the value of an ancient species with long-held ties to society, Susanne
conveys a charming tale that endears children to elephants and their
enduring legends. Such is the context to instil in our youth, the
virtues of curiosity—both for culture and conservation.
I asked Susanne to share her thoughts on the importance of art and
story in conveying natures fragile state and engaging young minds and
hearts in the efforts of wildlife preservation. In her words…
Elephants are the gentle giants of the world. They are like humans
with small families of up to four babies, but they do take 22 months to
have a baby elephant. They live nearly the same life span as humans and
can continue for more than 70 years like in the Old Testament. ‘The days
of our years are threescore years and ten’ (Psalm 90.10). They are
intelligent with memory that spans many years, communicate, care for
their families. When a baby elephant cries, their family protects and
caresses them. They hug, wrapping their trunks around each other.
Elephants have enormous capacity for love, intelligence, and show grief,
joy, anger and play. Loyal to their families and tribes, they form
deep family bonds in their herds led by the oldest female elephants.
What moves me the most is the respect elephants pay to those who has
passed away. They pay homage to the bones of their dead, gently touching
the skulls and tusks with their trunks and feet. As elephants pass a
place that a loved one has died, they will pause silently in memory.
Elephants are part of the lives of so many young people growing up.
They offer warmth, strength, safety. As a child I slept with my soft
grey elephant. Dr Seuss’ Horton the elephant was my companion. Horton
protected the world and me from danger. Pressing my face against the
fence at Taronga Zoo, I adored watching the elephants in their pseudo
Indian compound. I rode with a gaggle of children on rickety seats
strapped to the elephant’s back. What greater excitement than Ashton’s
Circus coming to town. Everyone piled into the Big Top circus tent
marvelling at elephants doing amazing tricks. As a child I thought the
elephants loved giving rides and performing tricks. It hurts to think
that they may have been treated unkindly.
When I was ready to explore the world as a young adult, I embarked on
the obligatory trek through Asia and India. Elephants permeated the
land, cultures and lives of the peoples. Throughout India there were
temple elephants where elephants participated in Hindu festivals.
Buddhist and Hindu temples abounded with images, bas-reliefs and
sculptures of elephants. The exquisite kalaga tapestries of Burma
(Myanmar) created with gold threads, beads, sequins, glass stones
depicted the Ramayana and the Jataka stories with complex images of the
white elephant of enlightenment. In Chiang Mai, I feed baby elephants
with bananas. Elephants worked hard in the logging industry. They lived a
double life of labour with often brutal treatment and also veneration.
The elephant is sacred throughout India and Asia, integral to
Buddhism and Hinduism in their many forms, culture, folklore and
traditions. Buddha was re-incarnated into a white elephant and at his
birth, a white elephant appeared in the sky. The Garuda, a large
mythical bird-like creature, in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology, was
created from the cosmic egg that hatched the eight elephants supporting
the universe. Ganesh, venerated and loved Hindu Elephant God, is Lord of
Obstacles and Beginnings. In Hindu mythology the flying white elephants
bring monsoon rains to refresh the land. According to legend, while
Buddha’s mother was pregnant, she dreamt a white elephant entered her
In Islam too, the elephant is venerated as Muhammad was born in the
Year of the Elephant (Arabic: عام الفيل, ʿĀmu l-Fīl). The story of the
blind men and the elephant told in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufi Islam,
Jainism and other Asian-Indian sects challenges humanity to seek truth
On my travels, I journeyed to Africa where elephants are integral to
the land, culture, folklore and beliefs in spirits. Portrayed as
powerful, strong, kind and noble, the elephant is seen in the ritual
objects of ancestor veneration and African rites of passage. The
Ashanti of Ghana honour elephants, giving dead elephants the burial
rites of human chiefs.
Elephants today are being threatened with survival with loss of their
habitats, hunting them for game, illegal killing for their ivory tusks.
Elephant numbers have dropped by 62% over the last decade. The Asian
elephant is an endangered species with less than 32,000 in the wild.
Taronga Zoo in Sydney is working with other international zoos to help
conserve and save elephants.
Elephants have worked for humanity and are fundamental to our
cultural and spiritual life. Today international zoos, governments and
organisations are working to save the elephant. However the threat to
I created ‘Elephants Have Wings’ with artist Anna Pignataro, to invite
young people to discuss the traditions, complexity and beauty of the
elephant over the millennium. The extraordinary painting of the Divine
Elephant protecting two children in a landscape of elephants
symbolically melds all living creatures into the tree of life.
As elephants have brought wisdom to the world, we must be wise. As
elephants take us on a spiritual and philosophical journey of truth, we
must seek truth. As elephants have protected us for generations, we must
protect them now.
Elephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay illustrated by Anna Pignataro.
Ford Street Publishing, ISBN: 9781925000399 (hardback), 9781925000405 (paperback).
Susanne Gervay is an award winning children’s author
recognised for her work on social justice. Her books are endorsed by
Variety, Room to Read, Life Education, the Cancer Council, The Alannah
and Madeline Foundation, The Children’s Hospital Westmead among others.
Director of the Sydney Arts heritage hotel, The Hughenden, she was
awarded an Order of Australia Medal for children’s literature and
professional organisations. www.sgervay.com; www.taronga.org.au
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate
about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation
with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a
platform for science exploration.