Some two and a half years ago, maybe longer, I was listening to Jonathan Schwartz’s radio show on NPR. After playing his customary songs from the American song book, Jonathan gave a rave review of a children’s book he just read. As a love of animals is something we both share, I had to read the book. I am glad I did.
Most of the people with autism and some with Down syndrome, likewise have an affinity to animals… and vice versa. This review is dedicated to them.
“My, what big ears he has!” A little elephant was born in southern Africa. However, not long thereafter, the peace of that happy occasion was shattered by a sudden flash and a bang. Poachers claimed the little elephant’s mother. A twelve-year-old boy named Thabo watched a rescue helicopter bring in a baby elephant to the wildlife refuge, where he lives. The veterinarian, Bitri, will try his best to save her. Thabo was there to comfort the baby elephant with big, spread-out ears he has decided to call Butterfly.
Four years later and half a world away, Emma was enjoying the splendors of her New York City courtyard garden, when a tall teenage boy approached her. Thabo introduced himself and explained that he was there with his father, who was giving a speech at the United Nations to urge world leaders to help his country’s endangered elephants. Emma was astonished; she didn’t realize that such big, strong animals needed protection. It was then that she learned about poachers killing elephants for their tusks for the illegal ivory trade. She removed the ivory butterfly necklace pendant she received for her 11th birthday. (The coincidences here will have some readers wondering if the ivory from her pendant came from Butterfly’s mother; at the very least, the metaphor is very strong.) She loved the picture of Butterfly Thabo showed her, which she thought of as she returned the pendant to its velvet box and hid it in a dark drawer. That night, Emma dreamed of a parade of animals.
Suddenly, Emma was aroused by a loud trumpeting sound. Outside her window was Butterfly, looking for Thabo. Hearing the noise, Thabo rushed to her side. Butterfly spoke to both teens of her fear of Africa and was seeking a safe place. But what to do with an elephant in the city? After all, an adult elephant would need some 320 pounds of plant material and 30 gallons of water every day. The seemingly obvious first choice was the circus! All three were excited as they watched the pageantry, especially the regal elephants. After the show, Butterfly met up with the circus elephants. Butterfly and her human companions quickly learned—along with the reader%mdash;that many circus elephants are taken from the wild and poorly treated. Later that night, Emma learned that the keys of her baby grand piano were made from ivory. Emma was left wondering whether the Bach prelude she was playing would be able to “heal the aching heart of a baby elephant.”