From Publishers Weekly
The team behind A Giraffe Goes to Paris
(2010) continues its pursuit of historic megafauna with this tale of Abu the white elephant, sent to Charlemagne by the caliph Harun al-Rashid. Though the story shares many of its predecessor’s attractions—the wonderful outlandishness of the idea of taking a huge animal on a long journey, the delight of human-animal bonds—it suffers a bit by comparison. The medieval monk Notker the Stammerer provides narration as the ambassadors from Charlemagne’s court arrive in Baghdad to find “artists, musicians, scholars, mathematicians, architects, and poets.... The Europeans were treated to concerts and fine meals, even sherbet made of snow.” The caliph sends Charle-magne’s representatives back with “presents fit for a fellow emperor,” including an elaborate clock (discussed further in end notes) and, of course, Abu. The journey back to Aachen and Abu’s somewhat quiet relationship with Charlemagne may leave some readers feeling wistful—too bad they couldn’t all have stayed in warm, lively Baghdad. Yet the eye-opening depiction of a city now known as a war zone as a paradise is worth the price of admission. Ages 5–8.
-Publisher's Weekly March 2012
Did you know that Charlemagne would bathe with his white elephant, a gift from the caliph of Baghdad? No? Well, let the monk tell the tale. Charlemagne, emperor of most of the Western world, was curious about Harun Al-Rashid, an impressive Muslim leader. So he embarked upon a journey that took him from Germany to Italy, across the Mediterranean, through Cairo, and finally into Baghdad. There the travelers were stunned by the sophisticated society that they found. Most intriguing? The Muslim world’s knowledge about science, medicine, and engineering, far exceeding what Europeans knew. At Charlegmagne’s departure, Harun gave him gifts; the most precious was Abu, a white elephant. As they journeyed home, the elephant and the ruler forged a lifelong friendship. A primitive yet joyful art style brings the story close to children, but photographic artifacts from Charlemagne’s reign are interwoven, giving the visual element depth. Though the relationship between Abu and Charlemagne is tender, perhaps the best part of this shows the easy, generous friendship between two powerful, very different leaders. — Booklist, May 2012