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Capture the Flag
Kate Messner


Small as an Elephant PDF Print E-mail

What You Need to Know:
• A story of survival and self-discovery told from the perspective of an eleven year-old boy.
• A mother’s mental illness is subtly addressed but never fully explained.
• There is limited dialogue and the plot goes back and forth between the present and memories of the past.
• Each chapter begins with an interesting fact about elephants.
• Jennifer Richard Jacobson is also the author of the popular Andy Shane series.
• This story should appeal to both boys and girls.
Sweet Book Summary:
Jack had been looking forward to a special vacation with his mom, but on the first morning of their trip he wakes up in a Maine campground to find himself completely alone. His mom’s tent is gone, as is their car, and he has less than $20 in his pocket. Most kids would turn themselves in to the authorities, right? Not Jack. His mom has a history of this type of behavior and he figures that once the police find her, they’ll separate them and she’ll be lost to him forever. In order to avoid that fate, he takes off on his own, first attempting to find his mom and then searching for a way back to his home in Massachusetts. He is afraid to trust anyone because he assumes that everyone, including his own grandmother, would rather see him separated from his mom. Instead, he relies on himself, finding places to sleep like a barn and an L.L. Bean store, and securing food from anywhere he can, including a stranger’s garden and a garbage can.

Keeping him going through this ordeal is the security he finds in his favorite animal, the elephant. He saw one as a young boy and has found comfort in this creature ever since that time, always hoping to see another one in the flesh. As he begins his journey, he is so drawn to a tiny elephant toy he notices in a store, that he is compelled to steal it. After that, he faces several other ethical dilemmas as he contemplates whether there are circumstances that make it is acceptable to steal food, clothes or even a bike. As things become more desperate, he believes that seeing a real elephant will symbolize a fresh start and somehow make things better. Jack’s determination and ingenuity are admirable as he manages to figure out a plan, obtain supplies, and stay one step ahead of those on the lookout for him. He experiences numerous setbacks, but he refuses to give up and never loses hope that he will be reunited with his mom.

As Jack flashes back and forth between past and present, readers learn that his mom is volatile and has always had these episodes of irrational behavior that he refers to as “spinning.” Although her behavior is never identified by name, there is a reference to her being “manic” and avoiding her medication. As Jack’s emotional journey comes to an end, he acknowledges that it wasn’t his fault that his mom left and that she is always a part of him even when she isn’t physically with him. In a powerful moment, Jack also realizes that just as an elephant is part of a herd, so is he. It’s almost as if a curtain is lifted and he realizes that so many of those individuals he’d been running from, are actually trying to help him. Knowing that he has this network of people out there to look out for him and that he is no longer really alone, gives Jack the confidence to continue on with his own personal journey.

Readers will find many fascinating elephant facts and plenty of interesting details about life in the small towns of Maine. Some scenes are slightly scary as Jack maneuvers the world at night. While Jack’s precarious situation will keep readers interested – and apprehensive - there is limited dialogue, leaving readers to play out the action in their own heads. I think this book would make an excellent book group selection, inspiring conversations about family relationships, ethics, mental illness, trust, and independence.
Author: Jennifer Richard Jacobson Illustrator: n/a Published: 2011, 288 pages
Themes: Animals, Character/Values, Determination, Ethics, Family Life, Feelings, Good Book Club Selection, Grandparents, Independence, Physical/Mental Challenges, Self-Awareness/Discovery
Sweet Discussion Questions:
• Why does Jack’s mom leave him? Is it his fault?
• What would you do if you were Jack? How would you feel?
• What does Jack mean when he says that his mom is “spinning”? Why does that happen?
• Why are elephants so important to Jack?
• Why is it important to Jack to see the elephant, Lydia?
• What are some strategies that Jack uses to survive on his own?
• Is it ever OK to steal?
• Is Jack better off living with his mother or should they be separated?
• Who helps Jack along the way? Why do each of them assist him?
• Does Jack make the right decision to look for his mom on his own?
If You Liked This Book, Try:
Journey to Jo’Burg: A South African Story, Beverley Naidoo
Touch Blue, Cynthia Lord
Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine
Semiprecious, D. Anne Love
This recommendation was written by: Melissa G.
Support Independent Book Shops: Click Here to Buy this Book on IndieBound
small as an elephant
4 Monday, 05 December 2016 20:57
Rose M. Clarke
The book [small as an elephant] was so inspiring. It made me think I can be able to live alone for a few days. This book should be all over the world.
review -Small as an Elephant.
3 Sunday, 31 August 2014 13:21
Cally Doyle
The reason that Jacks Mom had left was due to her mental illness. The author uses the term "spinning". She has medicine for her illness but typically with mentally ill patients, they take the attitude that they no longer need medicine because they are fine now. NOT realizing that its the medicine that is responsible for them being "better". Once they stop the medicine the manic "spin" cycle starts again. In her mind, She feels that Jack was selfish for wanting to go visit Lydia. She had other plans in mind. The vacation was low-budget vacation and she had other things in mind. She was at the bar where "Big Jack" was and probably let alcohol interfere with her decisions. Mental illness is the reason for the skewed logic as far as leaving Jack. In her mind, She was raising a smart boy and he would figure it out.
Jack's mom
2 Friday, 10 February 2012 16:44
Sweet on Books
Thanks for the comment Vylee! Her behavior is never identified by name, there is a reference to her being “manic” and avoiding her medication.
Great book ~~ but, I have 1 question
1 Thursday, 26 January 2012 12:52
As Small as an Elephant is an awesome book. I have only encountered 91 pages and I already am deeply interested. However, (for those who have finished the book) will it ever state why Jack's mom left Jack? Despite all my searching, no website has been able to answer this question. I would love it if someone were to help me. Thank you!!! :)

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