A young elephant bullied for his congenital abnormality faces an ethical dilemma about rescuing his tormentor in this children’s picture book.
When Kofi, an elephant, is born, he has a knot in his trunk that makes ordinary tasks, such as drinking or trumpeting, difficult. Other elephants tease him, especially mean Big Ebo. Kofi’s parents take him to see “a special doctor” for an operation. Afterward, his trunk has a curl in it, but it works. One day, during rainy season, he sees Big Ebo stuck in the swirling river, and Kofi decides to pull him out. As Kofi later tells his grandchildren, “that’s when I knew: I was going to be all right.” A guide for parents and teachers is included. Patz (co-author, with Susan L. Roth: Babies Can’t Eat Kimchi!, 2007, etc.) and debut co-author Sheer, an orthodontist who volunteers with Operation Smile to fix cleft palates and similar problems, present the challenges of physical difference in an understandable way for kids. They acknowledge the hardships but also show supportive parents. Kofi’s trunk realistically looks odd post-surgery, but the focus on how well it now functions is helpful. Perhaps Kofi shouldn’t have to prove he’s a hero to feel good about himself, but the book’s message that life goes on is encouraging. Patz’s lovely watercolor-and-pencil illustrations are wonderfully expressive.
Beautiful, useful, and compassionate.
From the ARTS DISTRICT of the Baltimore Magazine
The Elephant with a Knot in His Trunk is a picture book with talking animals, true, but all ages can glean some wisdom from its pages, as it’s charged with truths about how we overcome what we perceive as our shortcomings, and ultimately how that shapes our identity. The story is elegantly told and illustrated with a lushness of loose, textured graphite lines and rich watercolor that emote the wildness of the jungle.
Stuart Sheer, an orthodontist practicing in Mount Airy and Finksburg, was inspired to write a story after numerous trips overseas helping children with cleft palates (an orthodontist is needed to make a diagnosis and treatment plan). He witnesses firsthand how these kids are bullied and in some respects separated from the rest of society because of their inability to speak clearly. In working with surgeons to repair cleft palates, he understands how dramatically those changes affect children’s confidence—and he thought a book might help in the healing process as well.
He first wrote about a girl with a cleft palate and had planned to publish it and give it to clients, but the story took another shape when he began collaborating three years ago with Pikesville children’s book author and illustrator Nancy Patz to develop the book.
“It’s easier to show emotions through animals sometimes,” Patz says (though she still sometimes uses herself as a model in the mirror.)
Kofi is an elephant born with a knot in his trunk, as the title suggests. This not only limits what he can do (even drinking proves challenging), but makes him a target for bullying. He goes to great lengths—indeed, risking his life—to undo this knot. Eventually, a doctor (a monkey) operates on him and is able to untie the trunk, leaving behind a curl but allowing Kofi to do eat, drink, and trumpet-call like the others. Meanwhile, he faces an agonizing decision when he spots his biggest nemesis drowning in a whirlpool and has to quickly decide whether to try to save him. Kofi pulls Big Ebo to shore, and realizes his value in a way he hadn’t previously.
“The book applies to people without disabilities, too,” Dr. Sheer says. “All of us feel somewhat not whole. . . . People say it’s timely, but bullying has been going on forever.”
“Who has not been outside the circle?” Patz echoes. “Your hair’s too straight, your hair’s too curly, you’re too smart, you’re too dumb. . . . But this book is also for the people who are picking on others, to show what it feels like. What Stuart contributed, in large measure, was his complete empathy with his patients. He wanted a book to ease their emotional distress.”
In one scene, Kofi’s anxious parents watch from the edge of the jungle as a nervous Kofi talks with the doctor who is about to operate on him. Dr. Sheer has watched the human version of this scenario play out again and again.
As nurses lead a child away from the parents for the procedure, both children and parents are apprehensive. They all have to trust, quite often through a language barrier, that the surgery will help. Sometimes families travel for weeks from remote locations to have the surgery performed. Dr. Sheer and Patz chose to keep a curl in Kofi’s trunk after his operation to reflect the imperfections that occur in real-life surgeries.
Anti-bullying groups and others are interested in using the book for educational purposes, Dr. Sheer says, which came as a pleasant surprise, as he has done little to promote it.
But perhaps the most rewarding feedback came by way of a class of first-graders who was recently given the assignment to make a drawing about the book and tell what lesson they had learned from it. The teacher showed Dr. Sheer the students’ images, with taglines like “Be a buddy, not a bully” and “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”
“We’re responsible for each other,” Patz says. “That’s really what Kofi proves.”
This new book is wonderful on so many levels. "Be a buddy not a bully." is only one example of where this story shines. It tells he story of Kofi, an elephant with a knot in his trunk who is shunned by his peers for being different. Even after his parents worriedly have a doctor (a monkey) correct the most dangerous aspect of his disability, he still has a bent trunk. His adventures have him being teased and ostracized; and then an emergency he witnesses as a bystander gives him pause to think how to respond. Beautifully illustrated and told; the orthodontist-author and illustrator collaborated to bring to life this all to common an issue we see today. What a great way to teach and be reminded that differences don't mean worse or better just different (like we all feel at times). I bought several of these books for my grandchildren and coworkers to share with their children. Priceless!
Kindergarteners enjoyed, led to light discussion.
Dr. Miriam Drummonds
I liked everything about this heart-warming story of Kofi, an elephant born with a knot in his trunk. Because he is different from the other young elephants, he is bullied and teased. Kofi feels alone and very sad. Although a doctor is found to improve Kofi’s trunk, it still looks different from the others’. What I liked most about this story is Kofi’s choice to help rescue the worst of his tormentors from drowning. Though he had been wounded, Kofi chose not to carry a grudge—a decision which healed the scars he had carried from early childhood. He found peace and confidence from his choice to help rather than hurt—an important life lesson for us all.
Dr. Sheer is the orthodontist for our boys (cleft affected) and this book is such a nice way to tell a story to children about facial differences! There is hope for change and acceptance is important because many children/people have differences beyond their control! Great story line and the wonderfully detailed illustrations go hand in hand or trunk in trunk to tell the story! Definitely recommend this book!
I bought this book when my daughter had an appointment with Dr. Sheer. One of my children had extensive dental issues and this book is an absolutely well thought out and touching story for any child who is perceived “different” and bullied by others. It is also good for parents to help understand the feelings of children who are perceived “different” by other children. The illustrations are beautiful and the characters in the book make you laugh.
From the The Chautauqua Daily
…Together, Sheer and Patz took three years to complete The Elephant with A Knot in His Trunk.
“It always makes me laugh when people tell me they want to start writing their own children’s books the next weekend they are free,” Patz said. “This is a long process…”
Sheer said that although there is a lot to learn from Kofi’s journey, the main idea he wants children and parents to realize from the book is a message of acceptance among all groups of people.
“This is not just a book for kids with disabilities,” he said. “We all feel inadequate at times. We say, ‘My hair is not right, my clothes are not right, I am too dumb, too this and not enough that.’ But Kofi shows that in the end you will always be OK. Some things just take time.”