This deceptively simple book by David McKee, chronicles, – through simple text and illustrations, – a fictional war between a herd of black elephants and a herd of white elephants. Tusk, Tusk breaks down the idea of war into simple fragments, which makes it easier for children to see the stupid reasons that atrocities are committed in wars. Throughout, issues of hatred and racism are explored in addition to exploring the idea of violence, but it is done in a non-threatening way for kids. Tusk, Tusk also reminds us of the old adage, that we are doomed to repeat our historical mistakes if we ignore what history has to teach humanity. The story lends itself to all age groups including adults, and I highly recommend it for parents of younger children who are curious about war.
Some ideas to try out with the young folk:
- Before the story ends, ask your child how they think story resolves itself, then check in with them to see if they are surprised, puzzled or if they expected it to end that way.
- Have your child come up with an alternate ending and illustrate it.
- Talk about current events with your child. This may sound a bit depressing and I’m not suggesting that they need to know all details about all wars but depending on their age, they may already be exposed to much more than you realize and they are formulating their own ideas anyways. Conversing allows for you to see where they are at and what it is that may need to know more about.
- Encourage children to make a “statue” with their bodies to show the opposite of war (peace, harmony, love, community). Then you can do the same. Come up with ways of making statues together, as often as possible relying on symbolism if the kids are old enough. Have someone photograph you!
- Have your child outline a large image of an elephant on mural paper (or even chalk outside). They can draw and write on the inside of the silhouette all of the things that they think the elephants felt in the story. On the outside, they can label all the things that worked against the elephants in the story (feelings, ideas, events). This should lead to a good conversation and is good for developing empathy.
- Ask your child to take the side of either of the elephant groups and have them role play with puppets if they’re younger. You or another sibling can play the other puppet. Observe how your child “resolves” conflict, deals with fairness or comes up with as a solution. This may bring up memories of times they themselves have dealt with prejudice or violence, in the playground for example. Again, it’s a good starting point for informal discussions.
Or simply enjoy the book! It’s a great read and just as relevant today as it was when written in 1978. Maybe even more so…