What Elephants Know, by Eric Dinerstein

What Elephants KnowNandu does not remember his parents, but he knows that he was raised by a pack of wild dhole in the jungles of Nepal. The man who rescued him, Subba-Sahib, is the leader of an elephant herd and holy man, and his mother is Devi Kali, his beloved elephant. Nandu’s fondest wish is to become a mahout, or elephant driver, but some local officials have succeeded in convincing the king to shut down Subba-Sahib’s stable and take all the elephants for themselves. The older mahouts distrust Nandu with his reddish-brown complexion and unknown past, but his instinctive connection to animals may save the entire stable.

Dinerstein writes a coming-of-age tale that spans continents and cultures, even though Nandu never travels beyond his local boarding school. His teacher is an American Catholic priest who recognizes the boy’s high intelligence and his gift for natural science, and he gives him the opportunity to participate in a project for the Smithsonian Institute. Nandu’s best friend at school is a Muslim boy who is also ostracized for being different from the other students, and back at home, a new Hindu monk takes up residence in the abandoned temple and offers Nandu spiritual guidance at critical times.

Those of us who care for animals will fall in love with the elephants and will marvel over Nandu’s almost spiritual connection to them. Readers will feel his passion for their safety and yearn for him to make good decisions and grow in maturity. Perfect for middle school kids with a passion for nature and conservation, this profound, transcendent novel highlights an inspiring young teen hero from a distant culture.

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Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, now available in hardcover. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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