Review: Tusk Tusk, by David McKee

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Title: Tusk Tusk

Author and Illustrator: David McKee

What it’s about: This book tells the story of a time when elephants came in two colours: black and white. Despite their peaceable attitude towards other creatures, they hated each other because of their obvious colour difference. This hatred develops into full-blown war, the conclusion of which brings about the apparent end of the elephants. Or does it?

Holly’s review: This book is about racism and not liking other people because they look different to you. I didn’t like it because it was scary. The pictures were quite frightening too.

Sam’s review: David McKee is perhaps best known for his much-loved Elmer books but this creation, dating  back to 1978, shows elephants in a much different light. The anthropomorphised creatures not only think like war-mongering humans, their bodies symbolise violence, as their trunks turn from arms with clenched fists into guns  and rifles. The hatred leaps off the page as the white and black elephants wage war on one another. McKee’s use of vibrant colours accentuates the action on the page and I found the glaring elephant eyes unnerving. Towards the end there is a hint that all will be well again, only for an element of unease to creep onto the final page. Not a guaranteed happy ending which might unsettle sensitive children (in fact the whole book might do so).

I checked on Amazon to see what others have made of the book. Generally there were favourable comments along the lines of it being a good book to teach children tolerance and acceptance. One parent did not like it because it had frightened his three-year-old. I come away from this book able to appreciate the artistry in it – McKee’s illustrations are undoubtedly powerful – but wondering if the way the message comes across is rather too severe for young children. Holly has read some pretty harrowing stories before but this short picture book left her uneasy. That is a testament to its power but perhaps the message is more for the adults than the children.

What do you think? Have you read Tusk Tusk?





    • I’ve read a few by David McKee and there’s another one that I have reservations about – The Sad Story of Veronica Who Played the Violin (which I must review at some point). It’s funny in a very black comedy way for adults but I am not sure what children would make of it.


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