The Children's Book Garden

Reading and weeding through the best and worst of children's literature

Did the Gifts Do it For You? January 8, 2010

Filed under: Animal books,Female Characters — Maiaoming @ 2:25 pm
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ella sets sail book coverSo, due to my daughter Jo’s obsession with Ella the Elephant, and the limited number of copies in our local library, the fact that I enjoy reading the books over and over, I went ahead and bought three of the four available titles as a Christmas/Solstice gift. And I was so excited when I went to do so to see that a new one had been published, Ella Sets Sail.

Well, this Ella adventure was kind of a let down.

Reason One: In the other three Ella books, the plotlines are driven by Ella’s desire to be helpful.

– In the first book, she tries to save a bully’s life, risking her own life to do so, and her lucky hat saves her.

– In Ella Sets the Stage, she can’t figure out what to do for the talent show, so she works hard to put it on – and ends up saving the day for others and getting recognized at the end.

– In Ella Delivers the Cake, she helps her mother deliver a cake and runs into some challenges when she can’t say no to a bully taking advantage of her, but she pulls it all off in the end.

Ella’s characteristic of being helpful is complicated by her shyness, and this is what makes her loveable and interesting and causes tension in the plot. She gets into scrapes and almost into trouble by taking risks, saved by her hat, and we learn that her intentions are well-meant but that she does have to learn to set limits and boundaries. I certainly know what that’s like – when you want to be a nice person, it can be hard to say no.

In Ella Sets Sail, however, we don’t see the same Ella. Belinda the Bully manages to walk off with Ella’s money and hat at the fair – I don’t like Ella being SO passive – and when a storm starts up, the lucky red hat gets lost at sea.

Ella STEALS a boat to go rescue her hat. In a storm. By herself. Josephine actually finds this part pretty darn scary. And so do I! Ella can’t tell Belinda “no, you can’t have my money and my hat” but she’ll steal a boat and risk her life to go get the hat?? That’s not the Ella I know.

Second Reason: Ella’s boat gets stranded at another of the Elephant Islands, one she hasn’t visited before. She gets welcomed in by a family which has been drawn to look obviously poor. There’s a mother with a rack of kids in tattered clothes and Ella is startled that none of them have ever had pineapple cake. It’s kind of a cliched portrayal that does nothing for the plot or character development. The dad fisherdude shows up having rescued her hat and Ella goes home and eventually brings her new friends some cake.

But nowhere is the helpful Ella, trying to find herself or trying to fit in or trying be useful to her mother – no, there’s just wimpy Ella, idiot Ella, going after her hat and feeling sorry for some loser poor people.

And there’s something disturbing about the poor fisher elephant family. What are they doing in the story?

I’m hoping there will be more Ella books, and that they will get back on track with what is so tender and good about the first three stories. Ella Sets Sail definitely offers drama, but neither my daughter nor myself like it.

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2 Responses to “Did the Gifts Do it For You?”

  1. Mrs. G Says:

    Interesting that you think the family Ella visits is supposed to be drawn as poor. I must have read that book a hundred times to my daughter and I never saw it that way. What bothers me most about that part is that Ella walks right into a stranger’s home with considering the dangers of accepting the invitation. I also think the part when the father returns with the hat for his wife and Ella tries not to ruin the surprise is worth mentioning. This is surely a glimmer of the “old” Ella that you admire. I’ll be reading with different eyes next time.

  2. […] Characters — Maiaoming @ 9:06 pm Tags: Ella Sets Sail, Ella the Elephant Several months ago, I gave two thumbs and several other fingers down on the latest Ella book. I felt like this installation of the little elephant’s adventures went awry, depicting her […]


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