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BOOK REVIEWS


From The Asian Reporter, V14, #41 (October 5, 2004), page 13.

A wall, a snake, a spear, a tree, a fan, a rope

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Retold by Karen Backstein

Illustrated by Annie Mitra

Scholastic, 1992

Paperback, 45 pages, $3.99

By Josephine Bridges

The Blind Men and the Elephant is a story everybody needs to know. Karen Backsteinís retelling of this deceptively simple fable is just right for children ages six to eight, and Annie Mitraís watercolors are a perfect accompaniment.

One of the strengths of this version of an old folktale is the focus on the blind menís abilities. "Although these men could not see, they learned about the world in many ways," the author explains. "They could hear the music of the flute with their ears. They could feel the softness of silk with their fingers. They could smell the scent of food cooking and taste its spicy flavor."

When the six learn that the prince has a new elephant, they are eager to touch the animal. "The blind men had heard of elephants, but they had never met one. They did not know what an elephant was like."

Each man touches a different part of the elephant and each draws a different conclusion about the nature of the beast. The man who grabs the elephantís tusk, for example, decides "an elephant is as sharp as a spear," while the man who flaps the elephantís big ear says, "Itís just like a fan!" When the six men discuss their impressions of the elephant, they begin to fight, so loudly that they wake the prince from his nap. The illustration of the elephant constructed from all six imaginations is especially delightful.

The wise prince explains, "The elephant is a very large animal. Its side is like a wall. Its trunk is like a snake Ö So you are all right, but you are all wrong, too." And then the prince introduces them to one of the elephantís skills, which they agree is "the best part of all."

It is never too early to learn to respect othersí perceptions when they differ from our own. In retelling and illustrating The Blind Men and the Elephant, Karen Backstein and Annie Mitra are doing their part for peace on earth.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon