HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Elephant Run
Author: Roland Smith
Cover Illustrator: Tim Jessell
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion, reprinted in 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1423104025 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 1423104021 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-1423104018 Paperback
ISBN-10: 1423104013 Paperback
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 12 – 14
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Smith, Roland. Elephant Run (published in 2007 and reprinted in 2009 by Disney-Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group, 114 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY 10011). It is 1941, and fourteen year old Nicholas Gillis Freestone, known as Nick, lives in London, England, with his mother who works at the American Embassy. His stepfather, Bernard Culpepper, is an Army intelligence officer who is off on a secret mission. When Nick was five, his mother divorced his father, Jackson Theodore Freestone the Third, a teak plantation owner in Burma, returned to the States with Nick, and remarried. But now that bombs are dropping from the night skies of London and demolish their apartment, Nick’s mother sends him to live with his father at Hawk’s Nest, hoping that he will be safer on the Burmese plantation. There he meets his dad’s foreman, Nang, Nang’s son and daughter, Indaw and Mya, the Buddhist monk known as Taung Baw or “Hilltop,” and the plantation’s mahouts.
However, as soon as Nick arrives, trouble erupts in the remote jungle of Burma as Japanese soldiers invade. Nick’s father and Indaw are taken away as prisoners to engage in forced labor. Nick and Mya are left stranded on the plantation, forced to work as servants to the new Japanese rulers. As life at Hawk’s Nest grows more dangerous for the two young people, they plan their daring escape. Can they survive? Will they make it out or will they get caught? And what can they do about Nick’s father and Mya’s brother in a Japanese POW camp? Some readers might want to know that there are a few references to smoking cheroots. Of course, given the geographical setting, mention is made of Buddha, Buddhism, and Buddhist monks. And since this is a book about war, naturally some deaths and even one beheading take place. On a few occasions it is said that someone, including Nick, “swore,” although no actual swear words are found, except that the “d” word is used once and someone says “My God” as an exclamation. Also, some childish slang terms occur.
Because of the descriptive nature of the violence, this book by author Roland Smith, who also wrote Zach’s Lie, is probably not a good story for younger children. The usual age range given is from 10 to 12 (middle school students), but I would say that it is more for ages 12 and up. Most teens should have no problem with it. However, from a positive standpoint Elephant Run not only explores the far-reaching effects of World War II, especially the less frequently discussed war in Asia, but also provides a good deal of information about Burma (now Myanmar) and introduces readers to the fascinating world of wild timber elephants and their mahouts. It is an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults that will appeal to lovers of exciting, historical adventure novels.