I have mixed feelings about Jerry Smith’s But No Elephants. It’s one of those books from my childhood that I recall my sister really enjoying and thus was read a lot to us when we were young. But it’s an odd story and I think I recognized that, even then. Coming back to it now, after more than twenty years, I have to admit that I understand both Grandma Tildy’s stance and feel for the elephant. In a way, the person in this whole story I dislike the most is the pet seller.
But No Elephants basically details the story of an old woman who gets pestered by a salesman who keeps coming by her door to sell her animal after animal. As a kind old woman who feels for all the animals, Grandma Tildy decides to take each one of them in. As she does, however, she reminds the man every time that she does not want any elephants.
So, the story progresses until all of the animals but the elephant have been sold and so the man comes back to Grandma Tildy and basically tries to coerce her into buying the elephant because the snow is coming and he must return to where he’s from. For some reason he cannot keep the elephant, so he just abandons him outside of Grandma Tildy’s house. The elephant, meanwhile, has gotten progressively sadder and sadder each time he’s heard her say she doesn’t want elephants.
He proceeds to sit outside her house as the snow comes, slowly beginning to bury him and he grows sadder. Eventually, feeling terrible, Grandma Tildy decides to bring the elephant inside where he proceeds to break through the floor due to his weight and eat all the food due to his hunger. Thus, the elephant causes all of Grandma Tildy’s worries about having an elephant are realized.
Of course, the elephant later saves them all when he feels bad about what he’s done and carries the house and inhabitants away to a warm and sunny place with lots of food, but I find myself wondering what is the point of any of this now. It’s just an incredibly odd story.
What I hate most about it, though, is the fact that the pet seller regularly pestered this old woman into buying his animals and then just abandoned the one she didn’t want in front of her house. It’s kind of messed up? And I mean, sure, it’s great that Grandma Tilly eventually learns to get over how she didn’t want an elephant, but literally everything else about this book is just…not great.