Singing with Elephants

Written by Margarita Engle
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

This middle-grade novel set in post-World War II California tells the story of Cuban-born immigrant Oriol. She is struggling to fit into her new community, missing the home where “cousins flowed in and out of our house like ruffled flocks of prancing flamingos,” and mourning the death of her beloved grandmother. She finds help with her language studies from a neighbor who happens to be Gabriela Mistral: poet, peacemaking diplomat and the first Latin-American winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

The struggling eleven-year-old finds solace in the company of the animals in her parents’ veterinary clinic, too. Oriol has two wishes: to belong and to be brave. She gets help in both from her deep connection to Chandra, an elephant whose baby is threatened by the greed and vanity of a Hollywood actor. With the help of her family and her poet friend, Oriol takes action to reunite Chandra with her baby.

Told in verse, this novel moves as its beautiful elephants do, “like ocean waves.” It will capture the hearts of children of all ages as we learn with Oriol that there is no better home for emotions than a poem. Highly recommended.