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How to Be an Elephant

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The savanna is not an easy place to live, even for African elephants, the largest land animals on earth. If it's a challenge for these 7,000-pound giants, what's it like for their newborn babies?

An infant elephant has precious little time to learn the incredible array of skills that are necessary to keep up, from projecting her voice across a 10-octave range to using the 100,000 muscles in her trunk to stay hydrated. But this giant-to-be has the perfect classroom--a family herd made up of her mother, sisters, cousins, and aunts. With their help and protection, she'll learn how to survive, how to thrive, and how to be an elephant.

Award-winning author-illustrator Katherine Roy's How to Be an Elephant delves into the intricate family dynamics at play in a typical African herd. Drawing upon the latest scientific research and Roy's own expedition to Kenya, and brimming with lush watercolor illustrations and detailed diagrams, this book vividly portrays the life and development of an elephant from an uncertain newborn into a majestic adult. As informative as it is beautiful, Roy's unique portrait of an elephant's life will captivate young explorers and animal lovers alike.

48 pages, Hardcover

Published September 19, 2017

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About the author

Katherine Roy

14 books35 followers
Katherine Roy is the award-winning and best-selling author and illustrator of many science-based books for kids, including her Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands, How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild, and Making More: How Life Begins. She is also the illustrator of numerous other books, including Barb Rosenstock's Otis and Will Discover the Deep, Richard Ho's Red Rover, and Kirsten W. Larson's The Fire of Stars. She lives with her husband and sons in western Oregon, where she's busy writing and drawing her next books. Learn more at http://katherineroy.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 223 reviews
Profile Image for Jean.
508 reviews5 followers
January 11, 2018

Beautifully illustrated and written in a style that is both informative and interesting. Excellent example of non-fiction for younger readers.
Profile Image for mg.
680 reviews
September 22, 2017
Ohmigoodness...THIS BOOK. The fabulous information, succinctly packed into this book is amazing. I kept reading little facts to my co-worker next to me when I was reading it. ("Whoah! Baby elephants are 220 pounds when they're born!" "Wow! They have a 22-month gestation period!" "Oh, listen to this!....")

But the illustrations - oh these illustration. If you're not in love with this little baby elephant by the end of the book, you have a cold, cold heart. I think I have my first official "Emgenecott Award" for 2017! I think this is going to be Katherine Roy's Caldecott... *fingers crossed*
177 reviews6 followers
May 17, 2018
This beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book takes readers through the life cycle of the African elephant and the adaptations that allow it to survive and thrive on the African savanna. Roy's paintings are jaw-dropping in their color and detail, and she also includes many thoughtful diagrams to supplement readers' understanding. The drawing comparing an elephant's trunk to a Swiss army knife is especially fun. I did find the writing style pretty dry at times... although that might just be because I don't read a lot of nonfiction. :) There is still a lot of good information here, and I learned a lot! Some of the facts are more than a little gross (baby elephants get some of their nutrition from their mother's dung... ew...), but for most kids, that will only add to the appeal. I do feel that the vocabulary is also surprisingly advanced for the book's intended audience. I think some young readers might be discouraged from picking this up just from how dense the text is. Beyond that, though, this book really is an informative and visual treat. And the end message - that we need to preserve a space for the many wonderful creatures that share our planet - is one worth hearing.
Profile Image for Becca.
1,316 reviews
December 19, 2017
One of my top picks for non-fiction this year--beautifully done! "It starts with a perfect family . . . a safe and stable training ground for growing up--a perfect classroom made up of welcoming trunks, available to every newborn baby." The combination of stunning illustrations and fascinating text make this a cut above the rest. It was a breath of fresh air after all the darkly illustrated, allegorical, message driven titles I have recently read, all well done, but heavy handed. Thank you , Katherine Roy! (My other favorite is The Search for Olinguito: Discovering a New Species by Sandra Markle, which couldn't be more different from this one, using photographs for the illustrations, which was just as perfect for that book as what Katherine Roy did here.)
Profile Image for Gina.
Author 5 books22 followers
November 10, 2017
There are some really compelling illustrations here, and some ingenious ways of displaying concepts pictorially. The text does not work for a picture book. There is too much of it, with may be why it sometimes drags. The vocabulary isn't necessarily too hard for readers, but the amount of it is overwhelming. It's like the text is out of junior encyclopedia articles, which is not bad in that context but all wrong for a picture book.

I believe the same concepts could still have been gotten across simply but in a manner that would have made the book work.
Profile Image for Janice.
1,367 reviews39 followers
December 9, 2017
I loved the illustrations here, and the text is also great. It may be a lot of information for very young children, but many would treasure this. I learned facts about elephants I never knew. This one is going on my gift list for both some adults and children in my family.
Profile Image for John.
Author 26 books26 followers
December 16, 2017
Amazing art and exceptional science, plus a great conservation message.
Profile Image for KayKay.
330 reviews3 followers
April 26, 2022
Love this book about elephants!
It's short but packed with concise information about elephants. Illustrations are beautifully rendered. A great picture book for people of all ages.
25 reviews20 followers
December 9, 2018
Roy, K. (2017). How to be an elephant: Growing up in the african wild (First ed.). New York: David Macaulay Studio, Roaring Brook Press.

Recommended grade level: K-3
Format: Nonfiction
Themes: Mammals, animals, elephants, Africa, nonfiction
Major Awards: Keystone to Reading Book Award Nominee for Primary (2017), Lee & Low New Voices Award (2010), Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Picture Book (2015)

How to be an Elephant talks about the environment in which elephants have to live. The savanna is not an easy place to live for African elephants. The author talks about how elephants are 7,000 pounds and then the author goes into what their babies are like. An infant elephant have very distinct and unique features that are much different than any other animal. They can project their voice a 10-octave range and they use their 100,000 muscles in their trunk to stay hydrated. Then the author goes into talking about the elephant’s family.

Personal Response:
I really enjoyed reading this book because I have always had an interest in elephants. I think this book would be fun to incorporate in the classroom because even if you do not like elephants, this book will teach you interesting facts about elephants that will make you want to learn more. Before reading this book, I did not know how an elephant learned how to walk, communicate, and listen by using their trunk.

In this book there are diagrams in sketches that illustrate the interior and exterior of an elephants organs. The illustrator also uses bold strokes that provide definition to the wrinkled skin of the elephants. The illustrators work also shows the elephants movement. The perspective of the paintings are mostly from the level of the young calf, low to the ground so the reader gets a realistic sort of feel.

Reader Response/Classroom Connections
The overarching message of this book is that elephants have a lot more to them than being big animals that graze across the land. Elephants have distinct features that do not compare to any other mammal that walks the planet.

Art: Students could paint their favorite animals using the style of the illustrations in the book.
Mathematics: The students could learn about weight, and measurement by looking at different models of elephants.
Language Arts: The students could read this nonfiction piece and compare it to a fiction book about elephants.
Science: The students could study and learn about the savanna and how elephants change and adapt to their environment.
History: Learn about the past features of elephants and how they represent different things and are used differently in each culture.
Profile Image for Terri.
913 reviews30 followers
November 27, 2017
Weird story. I bring home a huge bag of picture books from the library, all considerations for the 2018 Caldecott. I thumb through them in front of the television. The first book that grabs my attention is "How to Be an Elephant," written and illustrated by Katherine Roy. As I open the book, a commercial comes on for a digital device on which artists can draw. And who should be the featured illustrator in this commercial? Katherine Roy!!! I know. Right? I freaked out. I had never heard of her until that very moment - I had never seen the commercial or looked through the book or heard of her as an author or illustrator. It seemed very fortuitous. I don't know what it means yet, but I am trying to listen to signals from the universe!

"How to Be and Elephant" has received several starred reviews (ie; School Library Journal, Booklist, etc.), and appears on several "best" lists for 2017. This work of nonfiction looks at the life of an elephant living on the Savanna from being born to giving birth. It contains lots of interesting information. I especially loved the "Nose Job" section where the author talks about the elephant's trunk and both shows and tells how the trunk can be used as a crane, shower, trumpet, shovel, hand, snorkel, straw, fork, an pincers. Rather than being too detailed and technical, Roy explains things for readers who may have little knowledge of elephants, and where and how they live, in a way that readers will understand. An author's note (detailing her research), a map, and further resources can be found at the end of the book.

And the illustrations are filled with life and movement! The color choices give the reader a real sense of the landscape in which elephants live, as does the 5 square kilometer map towards the end of the book that shows all of the animals that may live in that space and what is required to feed them.

Another winner for the author of"Neighborhood Sharks." Highly recommended reading, especially for those with a love of animals and nature, and a curiosity about the rest of the world.
Profile Image for Nikki Ibarra.
17 reviews
June 22, 2018
Content Area-Science
We would be learning about animals and where they live and how they adapt to their environment.

Remembering- List 6 different skills the baby elephant needs to learn while she is a baby.

Understanding- After reading the, use some of the skills a baby elephant needs to learn and compare it to what a baby human needs to learn.

Applying- Using a different animal of your choice, complete a venn diagram of the baby elephant and your animal to see the differences and similarities of what it takes to grow up as each animal.

Analyzing- Explain what you would do to make sure a baby elephant learned everything it needs to if you found one and you were in charge of taking care of it.

Evaluating- Discuss why it is important that the elephant family sticks together to teach the baby elephant how to be a successful elephant.

*It is important for the families to stay together to make sure the baby is always being watched and protected. On top of that, the baby elephant will not only learn from one parent, but other elephants they are surrounded by. Since they will learn from multiple elephants, they will be well rounded and learn different skills that maybe their own mom didn't know.*

Creating- Elephants are similar to humans because we need our families to teach us how to do many things. Imagine if you had grown up with elephants instead of your parents. Would you be the same? What would be different about you?

*I would be completely different because elephants do things so differently. For example, I would probably try to drink water by scooping my arms as if it was a trunk. I would also try to scare animals that want to eat me instead of hiding like I would do now. Another difference would be the ability to keep up with the elephants. Maybe I would never learn to walk because they don't really teach their babies. Walking is instinctual and they practice until they succeed whereas humans have to actually learn to sit, crawl, stand, then walk.
Profile Image for Nina.
17 reviews
June 19, 2018
Content Area: Science
If I were in my future classroom and we were learning about Elephants through this book, after reading it to my students, I would utilize the following Bloom's Taxonomy Questions:

1) Remembering- How long did it take for the baby elephant to grow before she was born, immediately beginning her lessons in becoming an elephant?
2) Understanding- In your own words, provide me with a summary of the book.
3) Applying- The book goes on to explain that the Elephant's trunk is the most multipurpose animal appendage in the world. How do they use it?
4) Analyzing- How does the upbringing of an Elephant differ from our own?
*Their family is primarily made up of females, one of whom is called the Matriarch (the leader), who all take part in raising a calf. In addition that, the father does not stay with the herd. Our families typically have a mother and a father present, with the father usually being the head of the household. We do not have that mindset that "it takes a village" to raise a child. Mothers and mothers alone are typically the primary caregiver of their children.
5) Evaluating- How To Be An Elephant discusses the need for saving adequate space for elephants, indicating that humans need to take action to allow Elephants to thrive. What is your opinion on the matter and why?
*My opinion on the matter is that Elephants are extremely beneficial, playing a vital role in our ecosystem, and I believe that the world would be severely effected if there were no more Elephants. In addition to the need of their existence, there is a strong desire to keep them free from extinction because they are fascinatingly beautiful creatures.
6) Creating- How To Be An Elephant shows us how Elephants utilize their skills and physical qualities to help them survive. How could you improve these characteristics to help them survive better?
(* Indicates the answer to the question)

Profile Image for Carmen.
18 reviews
June 19, 2018
Level 1- Remembering: How many months does it take for a baby elephant to grow before being born?

Level 2- Understanding: Describe how important an elephants social group or family is to a newborn elephant.

Level 3-Applying: What would result if a baby elephant couldn’t walk right away at birth?

Level 4- Analyzing: How would you compare a baby elephants growth to a human’s growth?

Level 5- Evaluating: What was the most interesting about the baby elephants development?

Level 6- Creating: What changes would you make to the way the facts are presented?


Level 3-Applying: What would result if a baby elephant couldn’t walk right away at birth?
The baby elephant is born to walk right away. This is so the baby elephant can get away from predators. If a baby elephant could not walk directly after birth, it would make the elephant susceptible to predators such as lions. The baby elephant can also swim, kneel, and climb, even when she reaches 7,000 pounds.

Level 4- Analyzing: How would you compare and contrast a baby elephants growth to a baby human’s growth?
An elephant develops fairly quickly. They are able to walk, swim, kneel, and climb at birth. Baby elephants develop motor coordination by one month by exploration using their trunk. Human babies are not able to walk, crawl, or even sit up at birth. Humans are not able to develop motor coordination until a few months of age and these skills develop over the first few years of life. Elephants and humans have poor vision at birth in common. Both also depend on their cries and groans to communicate their needs to their family.
Profile Image for Matthew Hoffart.
25 reviews
April 18, 2019
Content-area crossover: Science or social studies (studies about families and development)

Twin text: Meet Me at the Moon by Gianna Marino

Rationale: These books seem like an excellent match. How to Be an Elephant focuses on how a young elephant learns to survive in the African savannah, giving lots of scientific information on what a young elephant gets taught by its mother and the other adult elephants around it. Meet Me at the Moon is a story about a young elephant having to be briefly separated from his mother and the ways she teaches him to cope while she is away. Young readers should easily see the connection between the nonfiction information about young elephants and the story about the baby elephant yearning to have his mother back.

Interactive strategy: Use a Venn diagram to compare childhood development and young elephant development. "What are some things human babies and toddlers have to learn how to do as they get older? What same things do a baby elephant and a baby human learn from their parents? What are different things that they need to know how to do?"

Marino, G. (2012). Meet me at the moon. New York: Viking.

Roy, K. (2017). How to be an elephant. New York: David Macaulay Studio, Roaring Brook Press.
Profile Image for Ilse O'Brien.
260 reviews1 follower
September 28, 2017
This is an absolute gem. Every page informs & enlightens & even entertains. Katherine Roy portrays the beauty & wonder of biodiversity on Earth. But how does she do it? It starts with the perfect angle…The narrative hook pulls you in and makes you curious. And then…. The tone, point of view & colors in the illustrations captivate you. And then…The visual metaphors, so distinctive, impress you. And then…The flawless way it’s all presented & structured inspires you.

I'm also a huge fan of her other fantastic book Neighborhood Sharks.

Asante, Katherine Roy.
Profile Image for Emily Caveye.
16 reviews
June 20, 2018
How to be an Elephant by Katherine Roy
This could be used in a science class because it is about the life of an elephant
List some of the uses for an elephants trunk

2. Understanding
Describe how an elephant makes sound

3. Applying
Translate how exactly a baby elephant gets the nutrients it needs without having the teeth to do so
Baby elephants’ teeth are not yet developed to get all of the nutrients it needs to grow. So they often take food out of their mothers mouths once it has already been chewed.

4. Analyzing
Differentiate between an elephant’s nose and it’s ears.
The nose is often used to tell where the elephant is because their eyes do not work very well when it is first born. The ears are used more as an air conditioning system for the elephant

5. Evaluating
Estimate at which age would an elephant learn to hunt predators.

6. Creating
With everything that you have learned from this book, create a flow chart telling what an elephant learns at different stages of their life.

Profile Image for Riley Thomas.
16 reviews
June 20, 2018
The twin text that I would pair with this book is I Am Africa by Carl R. Sams.

These two books go hand-in-hand because they both talk about life in Africa for elephants (in How To Be An Elephant) and other animals (in I Am Africa). They both give a great glimpse into the landscape, environment, terrain, and requirements that animals need in order to survive there. I would start with the nonfiction selection and follow with I Am Africa. To connect the two books together, I would use a fun, early elementary lesson. I would have the students listen to both stories, one at a time. After each book, the class would brainstorm, using a T-chart to record their answers on the whiteboard, things they remember from each book about African wildlife, the conditions they live in, and how they survive. After finishing the books, the students can use the ideas on the whiteboard to create (draw and color) their own made-up animal that could survive in the wild in Africa. I would also have students state why their animal would be able to survive.
Profile Image for Bethe.
5,792 reviews51 followers
November 4, 2017
Every bit as good as her previous book about sharks! Lovely, expressive paintings, excellent format & layout. Love how one section segues to the next. Great back matter! Just wish the double columns of text were spaced a little bit farther apart. Sure hope there is another animal topic on her drawing table!
Profile Image for Natalie  Harvey.
293 reviews30 followers
October 21, 2017
Love the format of this book. A different take on narrative nonfiction. Gorgeous illustrations. Be sure to read the author’s note at the end, too. Makes me want to quit my job and help save the elephants!
Profile Image for Kristi Starr.
254 reviews12 followers
March 2, 2018
Written and illustrated by Katherine Roy, How to Be an Elephant follows a baby elephant from her birth as she begins to learn everything she needs to survive and thrive. Beautiful pictures of elephants grace the pages and a variety of insets supplement the textual information provided. Baby elephant - and we - learn about the social herds in which they travel; elephant anatomy, characteristics, and capabilities; and their role in their ecosystem.

I'm sure that many young readers will embrace elephants as their new favorite animal.

Additional materials include an author's note and selected bibliographic sources.
Profile Image for Stephanie Bange.
1,536 reviews11 followers
December 7, 2017
Roy has investigated all the things that baby elephants need to learn and why from their mothers in their first two years – showing and telling about each in this informational book. After the baby is born/dropped live, the newborn is up on her feet right away and walking. Readers learn about elephant families, accuracy of their sense of smell, uses of their trunk, how they communicate vocally, how they keep cool, and learn to chase away enemies. Kids will really get a kick out of elephant “baby food”, his mother’s dung and how they contribute to the ecosystem by spreading seeds in their dung. Threats are identified – including humans. Two pages of backmatter include Roy’s notes and thoughts, bibliographies for more information, and a map of areas in Kenya she did her research.

Once again, she has knocked it out of the park with these illustrations. The watercolor artwork is amazing in their expressiveness and detailed diagrams. I especially appreciated her diagram of the many uses of an elephant’s trunk; it is like a Swiss Army knife. (Of course, with Macaulay as her editor, she had the perfect person to advise her on “How Things Work”!)

Just a bit of trivia…Roy can currently be seen on TV commercials for Windows 10; she demonstrates how to do artwork on a PC Pad, plus an author visit about her sharks book.

For grades 1-5
638 reviews1 follower
January 10, 2018
Fascinating facts about an elephant; from birth to grown elephant, the author shares information about birth, the structure of an elephant, and its basic survival instincts. There is a wealth of information int his book.
Profile Image for Jacqueline.
121 reviews
December 13, 2017
Such an amazing follow up to Neighborhood Sharks. The pictures are amazing and do a stellar job of showing some of what makes elephants such interesting animals and so worthy of our protection. This is my list of books kids are looking at to make their best Caldecott winner guess. I don't do a mock Seibert unit, but if I did, this would be my top contender. Great picture book for the family to enjoy together. It has substantial writing and for younger kid will need an adult to read along with them. Definitely one of my favorites for 2017.
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