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Review: ‘Ellison the Elephant’

A number of picture books address a youngster’s longing to do what his or her older siblings do. This youngster just happens to be an elephant.

Title: Ellison the Elephant
Author: Eric Drachman
Illustrated by: James Muscarello
Published by: Kidwick Books
Developed by: Oceanhouse Media, Inc.
Platform: iOS, requires 3.2 or later; Android, requires 2.1 and up
iOS, 1.08; Android, 1.23.1
$1.99 introductory price

PreS-K-Try as he might, young Ellison cannot produce the same trumpet sounds as his sister and her friends. Mom is a reassuring presence, but her attempts to make the pachyderm feel better are only partially successful.

In frustration at the small “toots” he continues to produce, Ellison stomps off stumbling over a bush that’s hiding Weasel. With Weasel’s guidance and smart-aleck encouragement, the elephant begins to play jazz trumpet. Naturally, once Ellison has “found his voice” the other elephants stop teasing him and are hoping for a few lessons.

This story of self-confidence and individuality has some logic problems. When Weasel shows up for the first time, it’s implied he’s appeared before. It’s not until the end of the story that the bossy Weasel is identified as “imaginary,” which may confuse children. Like Ellison, young listeners may also wonder what Weasel is suggesting when he says, “…close your eyes and look inside. When you find your voice, let it out….”

The illustrations, in soft brown tones with touches of green and blue, depict savanna scenes and the elephant’s strenuous attempts to replicate the calls of  his herd. Panning and zooming occurs throughout the app and interactive features include custom sound effects in each of the three operating modes. “Read to me” offers a multi-voiced narration and highlighted words; “Read it myself” includes background and searchable sounds, and “Auto Play” runs more like a film. The narration is uneven. Some voices better suited to the characters than others; Weasel adopts a clichéd wise-guy accent while Ellison’s lines, although voiced by a child, are at times read too quickly and have an inflection that may seem artificial to listeners.

The front screen menu is clean with each reading choice clearly labeled. The “i” symbol gives adults some directions and minor choices. Overall, this is a lackluster story (Kidwick Books, 2005) enhanced by few interactive features.–Elisabeth LeBris, Joseph Sears School LTC, Kenilworth, IL