Reviews /

Bandoola: The Great Elephant Rescue

Authored by William Grill
Published by Flying Eye Books

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Bandoola – The Great Elephant Rescue tells a fascinating true story about the working elephants of Myanmar and the role they and their human companions played during the Second World War. The story follows First World War veteran, James Howard Williams (Aka Elephant Bill), as he begins to work for a logging company in Burma, as it was then known. He learns about the training of elephants through observing and following Po Toke, Bandoola’s ‘oozie’ or trainer, and institutes a range of more gentle and compassionate training regimes over time. When the war threatens the people of Myanmar and British forces, Williams sets up an ‘Elephant Company’ of 1600 elephants to help the war effort but as the danger grows ever nearer, he leads a rescue mission across the mountains to India to save several civilians, oozies and 53 elephants.

The narrative is richly illustrated throughout with a subdued pastel mix of greens, yellows, and reds, and a combination of double-page spreads of landscapes and miniature, almost child-like charts and sketches of elephants. The maps of the terrain and illustrated elephant commands are distinctively stylised, although there were times when it was too difficult to make out the details.

Child readers would learn a great deal about the life and training of these very special animals and the geography of Myanmar. The author is careful to give not just the horrifying figures for the number of teak trees cut down but also the loss of elephant numbers in more recent years. However, he also presents a more positive view in that the working elephants are generally well-trained and more kindly treated in Myanmar as a result of the legacy of Po Toke and Williams. This book would work well as read aloud by a teacher, as much of the vocabulary needs some explanation or prior introduction and would be helpful as an example of biographical writing, or within a unit of work based on conservation, ecology, or the relationship between humans and animals.

The story is moving throughout but has a particularly poignant ending to watch out for which I wasn’t expecting. This powerful book works at many different levels. It can stimulate thought-provoking conversations with young readers on important topics and is a book children can return to over and over again. For a factual book, there did seem to be some confusion at times with the statistics given, which may prove irritating for some readers. However, I would recommend its use in the KS2 classroom, especially as it tells a historically based story that many will not be familiar with, that is also very current in its concern with ecology.