Linda has agreed to give do a book giveaway. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you did to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Check back to discover the winner.
A poignant middle grade animal story from talented author Linda Oatman High that will appeal to fans of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. In this heartwarming novel, a girl and an elephant face the same devastating loss—and slowly realize that they share the same powerful love.
Twelve-year-old Lily Pruitt loves her grandparents, but she doesn’t love the circus—and the circus is their life. She’s perfectly happy to stay with her father, away from her neglectful mother and her grandfather’s beloved elephant, Queenie Grace.
Then Grandpa Bill dies, and both Lily and Queenie Grace are devastated. When Lily travels to Florida for the funeral, she keeps her distance from the elephant. But the two are mourning the same man—and form a bond born of loss. And when Queenie Grace faces danger, Lily must come up with a plan to help save her friend.
I grew up in the 1970s, in bucolic Pennsylvania Dutch Country, surrounded by Amish farms. In Lancaster County, in those days, many in the Plain community considered animals to be simply “beasts of burden.” Horses pulled buggies, chickens gave eggs, cows provided milk, cats caught mice, dogs protected homesteads.
It was not uncommon in those times for families to abandon unwanted pets along a country road, hoping that someone else might pick up the animal and care for it. On a frigid Thanksgiving day, my younger brother and I found one such animal: a thin white dog, shivering by the side of the road. We took that dog home and we kept her forever.
I’ve always believed that we humans have a responsibility to animals. Beloved pets should be kept forever, in sickness and in health. They deserve to be loved and cherished.
I wanted to write about an animal that had come from a sad place, a time of neglect or abuse, but then found a good home. I chose an elephant, one of my favorite creatures on earth.
The first thing I heard while thinking about this book was the voice of the elephant, echoing in my head. “Bill The Giant has died and I cry,” the sorrowful voice said. “Elephants do cry.”
I named this elephant Queenie Grace. I wanted her to be a stately and elegant elephant, royal, majestic as a queen. I gave her Grace, because I knew that she’d have much to forgive. She had to be full of dignity, able to pardon past mistreatment. Queenie Grace had to be compassionate and kind, not bitter, and she needed to be an elephant that readers could adore. I loved her from her first words.
I decided to go with alternating chapters of the elephant’s first-person voice. I wanted not only to get inside Queenie Grace’s head, but within her soul.
I gave Queenie Grace a wonderful keeper: a big-hearted and gentle longtime trainer/owner named Bill The Giant. Bill had been Queenie Grace’s mahout for more than thirty years, and the two were best friends. Bill taught Queenie Grace to paint, to pray, to carry a human being folded safe and snug inside of her trunk.
When Bill dies, Queenie Grace overflows with grief. She no longer wants to live; she cannot imagine an existence without Bill The Giant. I explored the ways in which elephants mourn their dead, and my research uncovered the fact that they are believed to be one of the only animals able to grieve much as humans do. I wanted to examine how Queenie Grace would heal her grief, and find her way in a world without Bill.
As I was writing this book, my father passed. In dealing with my own grief, I also faced the all-encompassing sadness of the human protagonist in ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT: 12-year-old Lily Pruitt, Bill’s beloved granddaughter.
Combining my own emotions of grief with research, I observed circus elephants and those who worked at fairs in my local area. Some appeared to be loved and well cared for; others not so much.
Controversy had swirled for years concerning the use of elephants as entertainment, and it accelerated as I was writing the book. Finally, in May of 2016, Barnum and Bailey announced that it would retire all of its elephants to sanctuaries, where the great creatures could live out the remainder of their lives surrounded by peace and beauty.
I researched these sanctuaries and created my own fictional retirement home for elephants, in The Sunshine State, not far from Queenie Grace’s winter home. The book is set during Christmas, in the quirky circus village of Gibtown, a place I’d visited during trips to Florida.
In giving Queenie Grace a Happily-Ever-After, I gave her a reunion with her long-lost baby Little Gray. Lily Pruitt reconciles and reunites with her own mother, and families are brought together.
I wanted ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT to be about animal rights, and the treatment of elephants that are used for entertainment. But I wanted it to be about so much more: family and faith, home and hope, love and loss, reunions and reconciliation.
It is my hope that ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT not only raises awareness about the plight of elephants not as lucky as Queenie Grace, but that it helps readers to get inside an elephant’s head. Middle-grade readers are especially open to spiritual bonds with other creatures, and they seem drawn to unlikely friendships such as the relationship between Queenie Grace and Lily Pruitt.
As a little girl, I slept beneath three sweet chalk ware elephants, pink and gray. They hung on the wall behind my bed. Those vintage elephants were long-lost somewhere along the way, but I found duplicates on eBay, and I hung them in my Writing Barn. Those three remind me that even if one – or all three – become lost, they can always find their way back to one another.
It’s my hope that ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT might inspire readers of all ages to reach out in their own small and important ways, to assist in elephant rescue and rehabilitation. Every elephant deserves love, family, care . . . a home.
Linda Oatman High is an author/journalist/playwright who lives in Lancaster County, PA. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, and has written more than 20 books for children and teens. Linda was honored in England in 2012 with the Sunday Times EFG Short Story award, and her books have won many honors. Linda Oatman High is available for school visits, writing workshops, conferences, and retreats. www.lindaoatmanhigh.com
Thank you Linda for sharing your journey with us and offering one lucky winner a copy of your new book, ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT.