Book Review of Shirley the Elephant Story: The Heart Always Remembers
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The Children’s Book Review
Shirley the Elephant Story: The Heart Always Remembers
Written by Mary Helen Blanchard
Illustrated by Sue Brunner
Ages 5+ | 26 Pages
Publisher: Benchmark | ISBN-13: 9780578075822
What to Expect: Animals, circus, freedom, loneliness, family, perseverance.
Shirley the Elephant Story tells the true story of a circus elephant who lived a life of captivity in North America until the age of 72. The story encourages readers to think about the animals we keep in captivity in zoos and other parts of the entertainment industry and to see them as sentient and emotionally intelligent.
Shirley the Elephant lived in the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo from 1977-1999, but she had many astounding adventures before she made her home there. As a baby elephant, she learned that families love and protect one another, but she lost her family when she was captured and taken from Sumatra to become a performing elephant in the Kelly and Miller Brothers circus. In the circus, Shirley escapes dictators in Cuba, a ship fire in Nova Scotia, and an attack by another elephant that leaves her crippled. However, she also finds love, family, and, eventually, a new place to call home. Through everything, Shirley perseveres and never loses her faith in love.
Without presuming to speak for Shirley, the book documents the many proofs that Shirley gave over her long life of complex emotions and the casual cruelties she was subjected to. Softly colored illustrations throughout help readers picture Shirley’s remarkable journey and experiences. A timeline at the end of the book documents the events of Shirley’s life, and a reflective essay encourages readers to think about the ethics of animal captivity. Readers also have the option to find out more and download a coloring sheet at the companion website.
Shirley the Elephant Story is a sweet and thought-provoking story, perfect for animal-loving readers.
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About the Author
Mary Helen is an educator and author with over 40 years of teaching and writing experience. She began her career as an elementary teacher, teaching for 22 years before retiring to begin a new career in professional development for teachers in hands-on learning and literacy. As a young mother and teacher, she would take her 3 children and classroom students to visit The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, LA, and there they would see lonely Shirley the Elephant, with her crooked leg and a torn ear.
When Shirley was moved to Hohenwald, Tennessee, the news made front page headlines in Monroe – especially when the story of Shirley and a younger elephant’s reunion unfolded! Coming from a long line of storytellers, Mary Helen knew that Shirley’s story had to be told in a format for children. It is her fondest wish that Shirley’s Story will educate children and adults of the price captive elephants pay for our entertainment, and hopefully, a new paradigm will emerge with the next generation of caregivers for these magnificent mammals.
Mary Helen now resides in Mandeville, Louisiana, where she continues to enjoy providing professional development for teachers, writing, and reading to her nine grandchildren.
For more information, visit benchmarkecs.com and shirleytheelephantstory.com.
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