Mela and the Elephant

2019 Colorado Book Award Finalist
Recognized in The 50 Best Multicultural Picture Books of 2018

Mela sets out to explore the river outside her village but quickly ends up in trouble when her little boat is swept downstream and into the dense jungle. She encounters a crocodile, a leopard, and some monkeys, offering each a prize return for helping her find her way home but the animals snatch up their rewards without helping Mela back to her village. Just when she's about to give up, an elephant shows Mela that kindness is its own reward. This new fable is told with authentic Thai customs and includes an author's note with more Thai traditions and language.

Format List Price Your Price Qty
$18.99 $18.99
$30.99 $30.99
Interest Level Kindergarten - Grade 3
Reading Level Grade 2
Dewey E
Lexile 610L
ATOS Reading Level 3.3
Guided Reading Level K
Language English
Publisher Sleeping Bear Press
Available Formats Hardcover (9781585369980), PDF (9781534122987), Hosted ebook (9781534123151)
Copyright 2018
Number of Pages 32
Dimensions 9 x 11
Graphics Full-color illustrations
  • Colorado Book Award, Short-listed, 2019

School Library Journal - Mela and the Elephant

In this new Thai fable, Mela learns the virtue of kindness. After spurning her brother’s request to accompany her on a river adventure, Mela becomes lost in the jungle surrounding Thailand’s Ping River. One by one, she offers her belongings to the creatures of the jungle in exchange for their assistance in finding her way home. “ ‘Leopard I am lost…..You can have my sweater. It will keep your cubs warm on cool nights.’ Mela held her sweater out for the leopard to see. But the leopard snatched it up and leaped away.” Only after she has nothing left to offer does the elephant come to her aid, showing that reciprocity is not necessary; kindness is its own reward. The illustrations are mostly spreads in muted jungle colors. Mela, her brother, and the animals are in a cartoon style with minimal detail, but not without a guileless charm. The font is black or white, depending on the background, and with the exception of a purple-lettered maxim highlighted on the final page, offers nothing additional to the story. An author’s note about Thailand offers general information and adds context and perspective to Buddhist interpretations of gifts and gratitude. VERDICT This simply told, pleasant story extolling the virtue of unconditional kindness should be welcomed in school and public libraries.

Booklist - Mela and the Elephant

Mela is a bold and adventurous girl who thinks nothing of setting off to explore the riverbank on her own. When her brother asks if he can accompany her, she refuses because he has nothing to offer in return.

Thus, her journey along the river becomes a cautionary tale. Mela’s boat gets trapped, and she finds herself lost and dependent on the jungle creatures to show her some kindness and direct her home. In a predictable parallel, the animals will only help her if she gives them something. Set near the Ping River in Thailand, this story has the trappings of a contemporary folktale, with a lesson about kindness awaiting Mela and the readers. Cheerful illustrations in a palette of glowing jungle colors offset the perils of a child alone in a forest. Mela’s predicament is happily resolved by a kindly elephant, and she learns to change her opportunistic ways. An author’s note about Thailand provides brief cultural context with explanations about geography, customs, and concepts.

Publishers Weekly - Mela and the Elephant

Phumiruk (Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines) takes readers to the country of her birth in an instructive contemporary fable about kindess, set in a village in Northern Thailand. A girl named Mela sets off to explore the nearby banks of the Ping River, refusing to bring along her younger brother. “What will you give me if I take you?” she asks, but he has nothing. The decision comes back to bite her after she’s swept away by the current and winds up far from home. Mela meets a crocodile, leopard, and monkeys, who ask her the same question she asked her brother when she requests their assistance. She offers them her belongings, which they take—and then they abandon her. Eventually, an elephant arrives to help and deliver the book’s central message that “kindness needs no reward.” It’s not a subtle story, but it’s still a potentially useful tool for conversations about generosity, and Chen’s digital artwork, rendered in an array of creamy greens, brings the verdant setting to life.

Author: Dow Phumiruk

Dow Phumiruk, a pediatrician, was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and came to live in the United States when she was about three years old. She loves children and sharing stories, and is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Dow lives with her family in Lone Tree, Colorado. Visit to learn more.

Illustrator: Ziyue Chen

Ziyue Chen is a graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Her work was included in Bill O’Reilly’s and James Patterson’s 2016 children’s book Give Please a Chance. Ziyue lives in Singapore.

  • Beginning of text
  • Author's note
Full-color illustrations