Mela and the Elephant – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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Title: Mela and the Elephant

Author: Dow Phumiruk

Illustrator: Ziyue Chen

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, April 15th, 2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: kindness, empathy, Thai customs, Thailand, fables



Mela set out to explore the banks of Ping River near her home. Her little brother folowed to the edge of the yard, hoping she’d take him along.

“What will you give me if I take you?”

He had nothing to offer. “Then you stay home,” Mela announced.


Mela decides to go exploring and when her little brother wants to tag along, she refuses because he has nothing to offer her in return. sets out to explore the river outside her village but quickly ends up in trouble when her little boat is swept downstream and into the dense jungle. She encounters a crocodile, a leopard, and some monkeys, offering each a gift return for helping her find her way home but the animals snatch up their rewards without helping Mela back to her village. Just when she’s about to give up, an elephant shows Mela that kindness is its own reward. 

Why I like this book:

The strength of this book is the rich natural and cultural Thai setting paired with the anticipation even young readers will have in quickly understanding that the animals are going to make off with Mela’s gifts and leave her stranded in the jungle with night falling. This sort of prediction works so well, and having seen the beautiful front cover and heard the title, children will be anticipating the Elephant’s arrival and gift of kindness. Both author and illustrator draw the reader into the dense jungle scenes and while the scenario of being lost in the jungle is foreboding both the illustrations and text maintain a sweetness. 

This is a welcome text for our diversity shelves.


This picture book embraces authentic Thai customs and includes an author’s note with information on history, geography and more customs of Thailand. It would be perfect for a unit where children get to pick and study another country/culture very different from their own, or a unit on fables. 

This fable emphasizes the importance of kindness in our families and with others and fits well with the social emotional learning curriculum. 

Pinterest has a fabulous list of random acts of kindness activities to use in the classroom. 

Nat Geo Kids Asian elephant facts.

Nat Geo Kids leopard facts. , and here.

Nat Geo Kids Thailand facts.

Also don’t miss the interview I did with the illustrator, Ziyue Chen, or the interview I did with a couple of years ago with Dow Phumiruk.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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12 Responses to Mela and the Elephant – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. This is a keeper. I love Mela’s story, the element of suspense for kids and the Thai setting. What a wonderful way to teach kids about a different culture. Beautiful illustrations and a catchy trailer.

  2. Joanna, I was enthralled by the cover when I first saw the book’s announcement. This wonderful review makes me want to find it even more! I love that it explores Thai culture, not something I’ve seen a lot in picture books.

  3. This book looks like a delight! What a creative way to get across the theme of kindness for kindness sake. I hope my library gets a copy of this book soon. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. Joanna says:

    We can never have enough books about kindness, right?

  5. This looks beautiful, and who can resist a book that focuses on kindness? Thanks for the bonus interview earlier this week. So fun to have a sneak peek behind the scenes!

  6. I’ve had a fascination with Thailand for some time. The images I’ve come across from this colorful place intrigue me. I’m looking forward to reading this story. It looks like a book I’ll want to add to my collection.

  7. Patricia Nozell says:

    I haven’t seen any picture books about Thailand. Thanks so much for featuring this one.

  8. Elaine Kaye says:

    I love elephants and stories heavy with culture. Thanks for sharing this one with us!

    I’m part of #DiverseKidLit blog hop. 🙂

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