The Ele­phant in the Sukkah

Sher­ri Man­del; Ivana Kauf­man, illus.

  • Review
By – October 21, 2019

What’s a per­form­ing ele­phant to do when his celebri­ty begins to wane and he is no longer sought after by his ador­ing audi­ences? Poor Hen­ry the ele­phant is accus­tomed to acclaim and applause, and a qui­et life holds no attrac­tion for him. Retire­ment does not suit him one bit. He still loves to sing but no one wants to lis­ten and Hen­ry con­tin­ues to crave an audi­ence. One day, he fol­lows some musi­cal strains in the air which lead to him to a sukkah in which a fam­i­ly is sit­ting and enjoy­ing the hol­i­day, singing song after song. Hen­ry is elat­ed. The first time he lis­tens qui­et­ly but, when he returns a sec­ond time, he joins in. Young Ori hears him singing and invites him inside to share the hol­i­day with the fam­i­ly but, alas, Hen­ry is sim­ply too big to fit inside the small sukkah. Ori has a clever idea. He sug­gests that Hen­ry use his enor­mous body as one wall of the sukkah itself, enabling him to join in the laugh­ter and song. Hen­ry is grat­i­fied to have such an impor­tant job and sings joy­ous­ly along with the fam­i­ly at the hol­i­day meal. As the sto­ry clos­es, Hen­ry is already plan­ning his own sukkah for the next year and invites Ori and his fam­i­ly to be his guests.

The sto­ry is based on an actu­al Tal­mu­dic dis­cus­sion, although this is not indi­cat­ed in the book. The sages actu­al­ly debat­ed whether using a liv­ing being, such as an ele­phant, would be accept­able for use as a sukkah wall. If this fas­ci­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal fact is not­ed, it will sure­ly tick­le the fan­cy of adult and child alike.

This whim­si­cal tale con­tains a trea­sure-trove of sub­stance between its decep­tive­ly sim­ple lines. The abil­i­ty to rise above dis­ap­point­ment, the time-hon­ored mitz­vah of wel­com­ing guests, the glo­ry of com­mu­nal singing and fam­i­ly cel­e­bra­tion, a cre­ative approach to prob­lem-solv­ing, and the hol­i­day of Sukkot itself, each play a role in the joy­ous tale. An expla­na­tion of the hol­i­day is append­ed for par­ents and chil­dren who may not be famil­iar with its details. The mut­ed but appeal­ing col­or illus­tra­tions per­fect­ly con­vey the humor and warmth in the sto­ry. Hen­ry the ele­phant will live on in the imag­i­na­tions of young read­ers and listeners.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions