REVIEW: Don’t Think About Purple Elephants by Susan Whelan & Illustrated by Gwynneth Jones

Published: 1st April 2015

Publisher: EK Books, Imprint of Exisle Publishing

Pages: 32

Format: Hardback, purchased and signed by both the author and illustrator

RRP: $26.50

5/5 Stars

Sometimes Sophie worries — not during the day when she is busy with family and friends, but at night when everything is calm and quiet. Her family all try to help, but somehow they just make her worries worse.

Until her mother thinks of a new approach … that might just involve an elephant or two! But wait, don’t think about purple elephants, whatever you do! Whimsical and humorous, this little girl’s story of finding a way to ease her worry will resonate with children and parents everywhere.

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants is a picture book I’ve been hearing about for months. Or as the case turns out, potentially an entire year since the book was actually released. It’s a book I wanted to read last year, but I could never find it in stock anywhere. So you can imagine how excited I was to discover the Newcastle Writers Festival 2016 not only featured the author Susan Whelan and the illustrator Gwynneth Jones in the same session, but they had the book in stock at MacLean’s pop up festival book store. I snapped up this baby pretty damn quickly!

The first thing I noticed about Don’t Think About Elephants is the vibrant and bright coloured cover that just screams happiness, humour and good times. I want to give the elephant sitting on ‘P’ a big cuddle; I just love those little purple elephants so much! Actually on my initial flick through the book the stunning colours and the Gwynneth Jones’ amazing illustrations really stood out.

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants is the story of a little girl named Sophie and her wild and inquisitive imagination that plagued her every night when she went to bed.

During the day Sophie was busy thinking about all the fun things she was doing, but at bedtime, when everything was quiet and still and there were no games to play or lessons to learn, Sophie started to worry.

Each night when Sophie lay down to sleep her mind would not switch off and instead threw out a mass of daily questions and worries like: ”What if she forgot her lunch and had nothing to eat at school?‘ These sorts of questions plagued Sophie so much that she couldn’t sleep. Then one night her mum suggested that rather than worry about all the things that were out of Sophie’s control, why didn’t she:

‘Go to be, close your eyes and DON’T think about purple elephants. No cute little purple elephants, no big purple elephants at the circus. No purple elephants at all.’

So Sophie did. And the purple elephants visited her at night as she went off to sleep.

I actually really love this story. I think everybody has been ‘Sophie’ at least once or twice in their lifetimes, when daily worries plagued your thoughts and prohibit sleep. I personally have always been a horrible sleeper, much to my parents despair. Much like Sophie, my over active imagination would turn up full force at night time and I would lay there for hours and hours unable to sleep, fearing the unknown. I really wish this book was around for when I was young, because my parents never thought to try not thinking about purple elephants, a concept so unique and fun, that I can’t imagine it not working!

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants features the most stunning double & full page illustrations. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say this little book features some of the most amazing illustrations that I’ve seen in ANY picture book recently; if they were available as prints, there are some I’d honestly considering hanging on my walls. Not only has Jones utilised the entire page, but she’s used contrast colours to make her already amazing illustrations ‘pop’ just that little bit more. What’s more, she’s even contrasted day and night for Sophie by using soothing blues and yellow hues directly against the stark and oppressive, terrifying tones of black and white which really just adds that extra little layer to the story.

It’s been said that a marriage between the story the words tell with the story the pictures tell is the true measure of a picture books success. In the case of Don’t Think About Purple Elephants I think Whelan and Jones have mastered the perfect blend between text and illustration. While Whelan’s text is simple, every day wording that is accessible to all ages, it’s Jones’ illustrations that create a deeper depth of story with the type of events and true horrors of night time worries. This is most evident on the pages where Whelan asks Sophie’s question of ”What if she forgot her lunch and had nothing to eat at school?” and Jones has created this dark and almost sinister illustration of Sophie’s forgotten lunch. This particular image, with a gigantic RED apple, while the rest of the page is black shading is not only easily identifiable as faitytale-esque and creepy, but it brings home whole other dimension of the narrative.

The way Whelan and Jones have approached this story and its concepts of childhood worries, and what most adults might consider trivial worries, is really remarkable. I love that they haven’t dummied the narrative down, or played down just how troubling these issues are for children. After all, the answer to what to eat if you forgot your lunch might be obvious to a teenager or an adult, but for a child without these life experiences, the outcome would frankly be horrifying, even traumatising for some. The world is a bigger place, and kids at this age are only just starting to realise quite how big it is.

Don’t Think About Elephants is a quirky and fun-loving picture book that would be the perfect addition to anyone’s book collection, young or slightly more older (as in my case).

To learn more about Susan Whelan (author), visit the following social media sites:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Pinterest | EK Books

To learn more about Gwynneth Jones (illustrator), visit the following social media sites:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | EK Books

To purchase a copy of the book, visit the following online retailers:

Booktopia | Book Depository | The Nile | QBD | EK Books

2016aww

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