Yes, you read it right - it is NOT the infamous Trump who is the hero of this children's book. Instead, it is a loveable baby elephant who lives with his family in a cinnamon plantation in Galle. Written by Juliet Coombe and illustrated by Janet Underton this book was launched at the Galle Literary Festival last year.
My first immediate impression was that it is of a much better quality than the usual publications that come out of our country (and this is reflected in the list price of rs 1500). The next was that it has been quite well-researched. In addition to being entertained by the talking animals, children will also pick up a lot of interesting facts - did you know that elephants use mud instead of sunscreen?
The story follows the adventures of Donald Trunk, a baby elephant who is dissatisfied with life. He wants much more than what is on offer, he wants to explore. He wants comfort (like a proper bed made of cinnamon). He has many friends, like the kade owner's pet monkey who provides him with free food whenever he visits the market with his father, the elephant-whisperer Sunil and Natasha his butterfly fairy godmother.
As he grows older he begins to assist in the family business of hauling lumber for humans. One day, he complains of how difficult it is to wash himself, and that is when another jumbo friend Ashok suggests a trip to the ocean. It is at the beach that he reads (in the Daily Tusk Newspaper, no less) of how an elephant was rescued by the Navy when he was found swimming out at sea. Then Satarnia, a sly cobra tells him, " If you swim east across the sea from Trincomalee, you will find paradise where everything is free." This idea is reinforced by a mermaid who is sunbathing on a rock. She tells him of Great Nicobar where he can find fame, fortune and glory - all he has to do is paddle like a dog.
Eager to leave his boring life he escapes to Trincomalee and sets off on his journey east. He meets a whale and some friendly dolphins. However, his travels are interrupted when he is picked up by the Sri Lankan Navy. He is given to a Buddhist temple where he enjoys a life of luxury, and his only work is to join the annual parade in a majestic costume. There, he meets his friend Ashok who is also at the same temple. They both run-off during the parade and jump off a mountain and into the Indian Ocean. Luckily, a Nicobar pigeon helps them to navigate their way to the legendary island. The story ends with them at the Trunkobar Enviro-party. The book ends with the line "But not everything was as it seemed in paradise..."
I had mixed feelings when reading this. It has all the elements of a good children's book. There were large colourful pictures, it was humorous, there was a lot of educational value in all the general knowledge interwoven into the story. There also bits that only parents who are reading to the kids will enjoy - Ashok runs away from the temple because he doesn't want to be celibate!
However, I was also disappointed. The book does not inform children of the harsh realities of life for elephants in captivity: being a temple elephant in chains is NOT stroll in a sparkly outfit. It also takes quite a few jumps, like, how does Donald get from Galle to Trincomalee?
The book is supported by Jetwing hotels who have given away free copies to rural schools, and foreign guests at their hotels, to encourage a healthier environment and educate about the animals and bio diversity in Sri Lanka.
I saw the book at Vijitha Yapa Bookshop, and it may also be available at other local bookstores.