Tua and the Elephant

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Tua and the Elephant Book Poster Image
Fun, exciting tale of Thai girl who rescues an elephant.

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age 8+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Tua and the Elephant offers an age-appropriate window on Thai society and features some common Thai phrases in the dialogue. Young readers will encounter customs that are quite different from their everyday reality -- all boys spend time in a monastery, for example -- and may also have a chance to consider some social issues. For example, one boy who helps Tua is abused by his peers because he had to leave school to support his family. 

Positive Messages

Family, friendship, commitment, and trust all get high marks and big rewards here -- and the most villainous schemes the evildoers can come up with are no match for these forces.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tua is brave and ingenious; she and Pohn-Pohn prove to each other the value of their friendship in many ways as the story progresses. Many of Tua's aunties and uncles (especially the actress Auntie Orchid) dispense help, humor, and words of wisdom as the need arises. Mae Noi, who operates the elephant sanctuary, is kind, determined, and resourceful. A number of kids Tua's own age help her and teach her interesting things as she and Pohn-Pohn try to get to safety.

Violence & Scariness

The abuse of elephants comes up pretty regularly, but most of it has happened in the past and Tua witnesses very little of it directly. The elephant abusers kidnap a child for ransom. 


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tua and the Elephant is the story of an intrepid 10-year-old girl in Thailand who enlists strangers, neighbors, and lots of uncles and aunties in an unplanned quest to rescue a young elephant from her abusers. It immerses the reader in the culture of another country and offers insights on how people live in a different part of the world. The abuse of elephants is mentioned regularly, but most of it has happened in the past and Tua witnesses very little of it directly. The elephant abusers kidnap a child for ransom. 

User Reviews

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Kid, 11 years old July 13, 2013

Tua and Elephant

Great book for kids! Best book!

What's the story?

Ten-year-old Tua (her name means \"peanut\" in Thai) is at the night market in her home city of Chiang Mai as usual one evening while her mom, a waitress, is at work. By chance she finds herself in an unfamiliar part of town, where she comes upon an elephant being abused by her owners. The next thing Tua knows, she and the elephant are on the lam, being pursued by the bad guys and looking for a place where Pohn-Pohn (as the elephant is soon named) will be safe. Friends, relatives, and perfect strangers get involved in the cause, to thrilling and comic effect.

Is it any good?

Besides the appealing title heroines, this is a gratifying tale of doing the right thing, with a lot of help from interesting characters and quite a few moments to tickle young readers' funnybone. The simple, engaging illustrations by award-winning artist Taeeyun Yoo and first-time author R.P. Harris'  literary style give the book a pleasantly retro feel -- a good fit for a moral universe in which perils abound, but so do clever friends who save the day.

Harris, who lives in Shanghai, China, does a great job of immersing the reader in the sights, sounds, customs, and cuisine of Thailand, ​and includes common Thai phrases in the dialogue. (The book would have benefited from a glossary and pronunciation guide.)

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Tua does what she knows is right -- even though she isn't always sure what the next step is, like what to do with the elephant you've just rescued. Can you think of other stories about following your heart and doing the right thing? 

  • Have you ever eaten Thai food? From the descriptions in this book, would you like to?

  • Do you think Tua has more freedom in her life than a 10-year-old in the United States? Why do you think this might be? Do you think you'd like her life?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animals

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