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Elephant in my Kitchen by Smriti Halls (Author), Ella Okstad (Illustrator)

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews
Elephant

By Smriti Halls

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There’s an elephant in my kitchen,

IT’S TRUE, I kid you not!

She’s found the chocolate biscuits!

She’s eating up the lot!

When I asked politely who had let her in.

She lifted up her great big trunk…

… AND PUT ME IN THE BIN!

In this story, a small boy’s world is turned upside down when he discovers that animals have taken over his entire home… there’s an elephant in the kitchen, a tiger on the toilet and a hippo jumping on the bed… with knickers on his head! What are the animals doing here and, more to the point, what should Rafi do to get them out?

With seriously silly animal antics and incongruous animal mashups, this is a riot of a story… one that’s intended to get children giggling, bouncing along with the rhyme and falling head over heels in love with stories. It is also a book with a highly topical issue at its heart. The animals are moving into Rafi’s house… because they have no more food to eat and nowhere left to live.

I wanted to address one of the most important issues of our time in a way that small children could really engage with… in a way that could help them understand both the scale and the urgency of the problem. I wanted to find a way to get VERY small children talking about climate change, habitat loss and ways in which to protect the planet and those with whom we share it. My GOAL as a writer, however, was to find a NON-preachy way to get this serious message across. I was determined to make sharing this story as upbeat and enjoyable as possible.

Bringing the story home

It isn’t easy, trying to create some fun around a deeply UNFUNNY subject… and I wanted to be careful not to trivialise it in any way. And so my solution was to devise a totally child-centric scenario that would get little ones giggling… but pack a panda-sized punch at the same time.

For all of us, the very concept of habitat destruction can feel terribly far off when you can’t see it, when it’s happening in ANOTHER part of the world, out of immediate sight… And so I decided to bring that story home. Quite literally.

I flipped the idea of habitat destruction so that, instead of happening in some far-flung corner of the world, it was Rafi’s own home and creature comforts that were being destroyed by a bumbling, boisterous bunch of endangered animals. With this role reversal I want readers to feel empathy for the animals and recognise how hacked off WE would feel if it were OUR habitat that was being destroyed… If it were OUR home, OUR comforts and OUR cuddly toys that were being compromised – yep, we might have a thing or two to say!

I have three children of my own who are mini protesters in their own right. I’m pretty certain though, that they would protest EVEN MORE vociferously if their own home comforts were under direct threat – and as for polar bears invading the freezer and eating all the ice creams (or in our case, getting their paws on our Friday night pizza), there’d be BIG trouble. Speaking for myself, I’m agitated enough when someone else has charge of the remote control!

Pint-sized protesters

There’s lots of material available on the subject of climate action that older children can engage with, but it’s harder to find ways in for little ones. I hope to have delivered something for younger children in a way that’s entertaining, thought-provoking and packed full of practical ways to do your bit. The story offers up lots of positive, proactive pointers that are integrated within the story. And the marvellous illustrator of this book, Ella Okstad, was able to come up with fabulous, child friendly visuals combining words and pictures to demonstrate positive action and the small steps that everyone, however small, can take to make a difference.

Making a difference through stories

This is the twenty-somethingth picture book I’ve had published and, as with many of the books I write, this story is intended – in its own small way – to help make a difference in the world. To be a conversation starter between children and their parents, carers and friends. A story to provoke a response and to open discussion. Some of my stories are prize-winners and some are bestsellers but with ALL my books, whether fast paced and funny or lyrical and tender, I try to write with TOTAL integrity and heart, about the subjects that matter most to ME.

Since writing this manuscript more than two years ago, the issue of climate change has been propelled into public consciousness to a degree I could never have imagined back then and, to my great joy – and just as in the story – it’s children who are in the driving seat, demanding global change through impassioned protest and striking from school.

In the story, it’s CHILDREN who come up with the ideas and who work hard to put things right. It’s children who pass the message on to each other, work as a team and demonstrate precisely how change happens best – with everyone pulling together towards a common goal.

Still, don’t forget… we really don’t have to leave it ALL to the kids. After all, none of us is too BIG to make a difference either! In whatever way we can.

Now then… where are my chocolate biscuits. They were right here a minute ago…

(c) Smriti Halls

Smriti Halls worked for the BBC and began a career in children’s publishing and television as a writer and commissioning editor. She started writing her own books in 2012 and is now published in more than 30 languages worldwide, with bestselling and award-winning titles to her name. Smriti lives in London with her family and one well behaved dragon named Doris.

Ella Ostad is an illustrator based in based in Trondheim, Norway. She graduated from Kent Institute of Art and Design Maidstone UK in 2000 and has since worked with publishers and design agencies in Norway, UK and US. Her books have been translated into over 15 languages. She illustrated the bestselling picture book, Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert.

About Elephant in my Kitchen:

A funny, silly and hugely topical picture book that is perfect for inspiring the next Greta Thunberg or David Attenborough. This accessible call to action helps raise awareness about the world’s climate crisis and is perfect for introducing little ones aged 3+ to the issues affecting our planet.

What if . . .
There was an elephant in your kitchen,
A tiger on your loo,
A gorilla in your bedroom,
Whatever would you do?

When wild animals move into Rafi’s house, he needs to figure out a BIG PLAN to get them back to their own homes.

This is a positive, empowering and fun picture book about taking care of the planet.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Smriti Halls worked for the BBC and began a career in children’s publishing and television as a writer and commissioning editor. She started writing her own books in 2012 and is now published in more than 30 languages worldwide, with bestselling and award-winning titles to her name. Smriti lives in London with her family and one well behaved dragon named Doris.

Ella Ostad is an illustrator based in based in Trondheim, Norway. She graduated from Kent Institute of Art and Design Maidstone UK in 2000 and has since worked with publishers and design agencies in Norway, UK and US. Her books have been translated into over 15 languages. She illustrated the bestselling picture book, Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert.

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