The best middle grade novels featuring elephants

Who am I?

I was born and grew up in India and I’ve always been fascinated by elephants. When I wrote The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic, it felt natural to have Mini, the elephant, become part of its world. She’s not the main character, yet her presence raises questions about the place of these amazing animals in our world and in our hearts. I picked five titles in which elephants are secondary characters, raising similar questions for readers about who these extraordinary creatures are and why we should care. Curiously, I couldn’t find a single novel featuring African elephants. 


I wrote...

The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic

By Uma Krishnaswami, Abigail Halpin (illustrator),

Book cover of The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic

What is my book about?

Dini is thrilled! Her favorite Indian movie star Dolly Singh’s in town for the American opening of her latest greatest release. Could life be better than this? Dini enlists her friends and starts the kind of planning only a stellar fan can pull off—a rose petal cake? Dancing? No problem. Wait. What? Dolly’s lost her passport? And now she wants a parade? If Dini lets Dolly take things into her own starry hands, that would almost certainly lead to a sweetly perfect disaster! And whoa! Look! Was that really an elephant heading up Connecticut Avenue? A middle grade romp that transforms the Nation’s Capital into a Bollywood film set. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The One and Only Ivan

Uma Krishnaswami Why did I love this book?

Not one but two elephants star in this novel voiced in poetic vignettes by Ivan the gorilla. The animals are held in neighboring “domains” in a grotesque suburban mall setting. Ivan’s heart and mind drive the story, but compassion is made real by Stella, the older elephant. Her relationship with Ivan sheds light on their desperate circumstances. Ruby, the baby elephant, serves as a little beacon of hope, drawing the best from Ivan. Inspired by a true story, this book raised so many questions in my mind—about animal captivity, home, friendship, family, and community.

By Katherine Applegate, Patricia Castelao (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The One and Only Ivan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Now a major motion picture available on Disney+!

Inspired by a true story, this is the beautifully written tale of how a mighty gorilla wins his freedom. A winning blend of humour and poignancy that will appeal to fans of Michael Morpurgo.

This #1 New York Times bestselling and Newbery Award-winning novel is coming to the big screen this summer, with a star-studded cast including Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Helen Mirren, Bryan Cranston, and more!

Ivan is an easy-going gorilla who has spent his life performing for the crowds at the Exit 8 shopping mall. He rarely misses…


Book cover of An Elephant in the Garden: Inspired by a True Story

Uma Krishnaswami Why did I love this book?

I love historical fiction, and I love stories within stories and this novel is both! It’s set at the end of World War II, just after the Allied bombing of Dresden. We’re following 16-year-old Elizabeth, her Mutti, her little brother Karli, and a downed Swiss-Canadian airman as they flee to safety near Heidelberg in the company of—yes, really—an elephant! A story of survival, of endurance, of building lives. The human relationships, in a dark and dangerous time, are brightened by the unexpected presence of one remarkable animal. 

By Michael Morpurgo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Elephant in the Garden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

A thrilling and moving new novel about an extraordinary animal caught up in a very human war, for anyone who loved The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips or The Butterfly Lion...

Dresden, 1945. Elizabeth and Karli's mother works at the zoo, where her favourite animal is a young elephant named Marlene. Then the zoo director tells her that the dangerous animals - including the elephants - must be shot before the town is bombed. Unable to give Marlene up, their mother moves her into the back garden to save her... and then the bombs start to fall.

Their home destroyed,…


Book cover of The Girl Who Stole an Elephant

Uma Krishnaswami Why did I love this book?

In Serendib—doesn’t the name alone ring with poetry?—we meet the young thief of this title, Chaya, who steals from the rich to help the poor. In the company of Neel, her loyal friend, and Nour, the daughter of a rich merchant, Chaya finds herself being hunted by the king’s soldiers for stealing the queen’s jewels. And oh, yes, she also walked off with Ananda, the royal elephant. The ancient Sri Lankan setting is vividly drawn—with jackfruit and papayas as well as snakes and leeches. The elephant is in turn the object of theft, the vehicle by which the kids escape into the jungle, a sentient, perceptive animal presence, and an important ally. Surprise twists, adventure, and action in a rare, stunning setting. 

By Nizrana Farook,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Girl Who Stole an Elephant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Inspired by the lush terrain of Sri Lanka, this fun tale of friendship, risk, and reward is just right for middle grade fans of fantasy and page-turning adventure.

Chaya, a nobleman's rebellious, outspoken, no-nonsense daughter, just can't resist the shiny temptations the king's palace has to offer.

But playing Robin Hood for an impoverished community doesn't come without risks, and when Chaya steals the queen's jewels from a bedside table—a messy getaway jeopardizes the life of a close friend. After an equally haphazard prison break, Chaya barely escapes...on the king's prized elephant!

With leeches and revolution lurking in the jungle,…


Book cover of Chained

Uma Krishnaswami Why did I love this book?

I was lucky enough to read this book when it was still a manuscript. It’s the story of 10-year old Hastin, driven by poverty but also by his impulsiveness and youthful optimism. Running away from home to make money to help his mother and sick sister, Hastin ends up far from his village in India, and in the clutches of a cruel circus owner. He also becomes keeper to a baby elephant, Nandita. As an outsider to the setting of this book, Lynne Kelly dug in, persevered, and did the hard work of writing the story with respect and care. The baby elephant is a pure delight. 

By Lynne Kelly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chained as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

After ten-year-old Hastin's family borrows money to pay for his sister's hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt. He thinks it will be an adventure, but he isn't prepared for the cruel circus owner. The crowds that come to the circus see a lively animal who plays soccer and balances on milk bottles, but Hastin sees Nandita, a sweet elephant and his best friend, who is chained when she's not performing and hurt with a hook until she learns tricks perfectly. Hastin protects Nandita as…


Book cover of One Amazing Elephant

Uma Krishnaswami Why did I love this book?

Linda’s a graduate of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I’ve taught since 2006. I love it when my reading mind seems to make a conversation out of the books I’ve read. For me, this novel seemed to be speaking to all the other books on this list—through the large, tender presence of the elephant, Queenie Grace, especially in the chapters written in her first-person voice; the growing affection between the child, Lily, and the elephant; the shifting family dynamics, so that blame and guilt give way to communication and empathy; all kinds of chains and ways to loosen them and be free. I even found a surprising little nugget of historical information in the author’s note. 

By Linda Oatman High,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Amazing Elephant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

A poignant middle grade animal story from talented author Linda Oatman High that will appeal to fans of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. In this heartwarming novel, a girl and an elephant face the same devastating loss—and slowly realize that they share the same powerful love.

Twelve-year-old Lily Pruitt loves her grandparents, but she doesn’t love the circus—and the circus is their life. She’s perfectly happy to stay with her father, away from her neglectful mother and her grandfather’s beloved elephant, Queenie Grace.

Then Grandpa Bill dies, and both Lily and Queenie Grace are devastated. When Lily travels…


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Book cover of Sweet Dreams, Boone

Susan Grant Author Of The Bottle House

New book alert!

Who am I?

I am a Bible college graduate whose faith has always been a practical matter. Because I learned to find the “so what” of the Bible, when I became a teacher of the Bible in the public schools of Rowan County, North Carolina, my elective courses had waiting lists for students to get in to. As I now teach in Maine, I found I could continue to share a practical Christian faith through my writing. The books I have listed here do the very thing that I seek in my own writing.

Susan's book list on authentically illustrating genuine Christian faith

What is my book about?

Boone is a sad and lonely little dog. He doesn’t like to be left alone when Mom goes to work.

To help him feel better, Mom buys him a special basket for his bed. When he sleeps, he dreams of a long-ago time and meets a man who is sad and lonely too, until he meets Jesus.

Sweet Dreams, Boone

By Susan Grant, Kelly Artieri (illustrator),

What is this book about?

Boone is a sad and lonely little dog. He doesn’t like to be left alone when Mom goes to work. To help him feel better, Mom buys him a special basket for his bed. When he sleeps, he dreams of a long-ago time and meets a man who is sad and lonely too, until he meets Jesus.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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