Reviews /

Saving H’Non: Chang and the Elephant

Authored by Trang Nguyen
Illustrated by Jeet Zdung
Published by Pan MacMillan

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Following the deserved success of Saving Sorya (Carnegie medal winner in 2023) comes Saving H’Non: Chang and the Elephant, the second graphic novel-style adventure that follows young naturalist Chang and her determination to look after the animals of our world.

Here, her focus is on elephants, and she takes a particular interest in H’Non, an Asian elephant who was stolen from her mother in Vietnam at a young age and forced to work for humans. The process of ‘domesticating’ such a beast starts when the elephant is very young, whereupon it is physically abused in order to do as its master (mahout) says. On a visit to a national park, Chang sees H’Non being hit by her mahout and is outraged, deciding there and then that she will do all she can to get the elephant into a more caring environment.

Eventually, the mahout is appeased by an 18-month contract to take H’Non away into care; he is financially reimbursed, which is ultimately all he cares about. However, there is nobody to actually look after H’Non – Chang can’t do it full time, and she needs someone she can trust.

Enter Wat, a young boy who reflects the Chang we first met in Saving Sorya. He is curious, enthusiastic and willing to learn – perhaps Chang sees herself in him. He and H’Non bond, and, over time, the elephant grows in confidence in her natural environment, learning to communicate with other elephants and to look after herself.

This story is based on the real-life H’Non, and her very real experiences in Vietnam. To this end, the way that such animals are treated might shock readers, and perhaps even move them to doing more about animal welfare themselves. Such treatment of animals is still common in South East Asia, and to read about elephant-friendly tours for visitors is a step in the right direction.

The presentation of the book is busy, but full of detail, both in terms of the narrative and the illustrations. It flips between the graphic novel format, with panels showing Chang’s emotional distress at how H’Non is treated, and cinematic double-spreads of the most gorgeous artwork. There are insights into Chang’s notebook and sketches, as well as informative sections about the legalities of the animal trade in Vietnam.

In terms of the classroom,Saving H’Non could be used for so many different reasons, from reading for pleasure to science and PSHE lessons to art. It really is a book to lose yourself in and could be enjoyed time and time again. Another future prize-winner, I am sure!