Caldecott Honor Winners Ted & Betsy Lewin’s book Balarama: A Royal Elephant recounts the authors’ adventures with elephants surrounding the Dasara festival in India.
Balarama, a young elephant, is about to participate in the royal parade for the first time. Inspired text takes the reader through Balarama’s preparations for the festival, and eventually to the celebration itself. It is a story full of wonderful insights into Indian culture, emphasized further through the glossary/pronunciation guide and fun facts pages about elephants and the Dasara celebration.
The illustrations were undoubtedly the most striking feature of this book. Beautiful, vivid watercolors bring to life the liveliness of Indian culture. The intricate details mimic the delicate designs often used in textiles, paintings, and other aspects of the decoration of the elephants. I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of photograph-like depictions of the elephants and the festival alongside the cartoon-like renditions of the tourists and action scenarios. The combination of such allows a wider age range of readers to find excitement in this book.
As far as ages are concerned, I think the structure and style of this book could make it enjoyable for younger children in a read-aloud setting and exciting for older readers because of the denser text and advanced Indian vocabulary. There is great knowledge to be gained from the story at hand, and it could be used in many contexts to teach children a new, exciting story about India’s culture.
Reviewed by SaraGrace Lee