Books Into the Wild: Artists and Rebels It's Monday What Are You Reading Middle Grade Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Exploring the Beautiful and Complex Bond Between Humans and Animals in “Some Kind of Courage” and “What Elephants Know”


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Fats here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.


Today I’m sharing two middle grade fiction novels that were published this year. Some Kind of Courage and What Elephants Know feature two young boys and the bond they shared with an elephant and a horse. These coming-of-age stories are great reads for animal lovers. Be sure to check them out!


Some Kind of Courage

Written by Dan Gemeinhart
Published by Scholastic Press (2016)
ISBN-10: 0545665779
ISBN-13: 978-0545665773

What It’s About:

Joseph Johnson has lost just about everyone he’s ever loved. He lost his pa in an accident. He lost his ma and his little sister to sickness. And now, he’s lost his pony — fast, fierce, beautiful Sarah, taken away by a man who had no right to take her.

Joseph Johnson may have lost just about everything. But he hasn’t lost hope. And he hasn’t lost the fire in his belly that says he’s getting his Sarah back — no matter what.

My Thoughts:

I first discovered Dan Gemeinhart when I saw a display of his book, The Honest Truth, in a Barnes & Noble located near me. When I came across Some Kind of Courage at work, I was intrigued by the cover. I took it home and realized that it’s perfect for our current theme, Into the Wild.

I did not know what to expect from the book. The story was set in Old Mission, Washington in October, 1890. It took me a while to get used to the language. As soon as I got done reading the first two chapters, I knew I’d be in for a ride. And what an adventure it was!

Joseph’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. He was on a mission to get his dearest Sarah back and never was there a time that Joseph gave up. His heart was full of hope and courage.

The book has incredible, too-good-to-be-true, and almost too impossible, details. But don’t let those stop you from reading it. This book has a unique voice that needs to be heard. It’s the story of every person who has lost someone and/or loved animals so much that to be apart from them would break their heart. It’s the story of friendship that does not require words, and of the quiet courage inside all of us.

Quotes from the Book:

“It felt like a bad secret. Like a shame. I don’t know why. But I was afraid for some reason that when Mrs. Davidson found out about me, that she’d want me to leave. Maybe it’s an orphan thing. Since Papa died, no matter where I was, I felt like I didn’t belong there. And no matter who I was with, I felt like I didn’t belong with them. And I guess I was afraid they felt the same thing — that I didn’t belong there.”

“It’s your heart. It don’t beat right. Hearts always go like this: ba-pum, ba-pum. But with yours I can only hear the pum’s, not the ba’s. You’re missing half your heart. I bet you your horse has got the other half. That means you gotta find her, so’s you’ll have one whole heart again. I know it.”

“I wasn’t thinking about the rain or the road or the loneliness. I was thinking about the things we lose, and things we have to hold on to, and things we have to fight to get back.”


What Elephants Know

Written by Eric Dinerstein
Published by Disney Hyperion (2016)
ISBN-10: 1484728548
ISBN-13: 978-1484728543

What It’s About:

Abandoned in the jungle of the Nepalese Borderlands, two-year-old Nandu is found living under the protective watch of a pack of wild dogs. From his mysterious beginnings, fate delivers him to the king’s elephant stable, where he is raised by unlikely parents — the wise head of the stable, Subha-sahib, and Devi Kali, a fierce and affectionate female elephant.

When the king’s government threatens to close the stable, Nandu, now twelve, searches for a way to save his family and community. A risky plan could be the answer. The future is in Nandu’s hands as he sets out to find a bull elephant and bring him back to the Borderlands.

My Thoughts:

I fell in love with the cover as soon as I picked it up from the bookdrop. I was even more delighted to read Jane Goodall’s thoughts about the book, that readers will be fascinated, angered, and charmed by this beautiful story. She couldn’t be more right.

What Elephants Know has a “Jungle Book” feel to it. What really got me, however, is the poetic language used by the author. Like Some Kind of Courage, What Elephants Know was written on the point of view of the main character, Nandu. I enjoyed reading the book from beginning to end.

The book not only focused on the special bond shared by Nandu and Devi Kali. It also touched on themes of family and friendship, the importance of education, protecting nature, and writing your own destiny.

Quotes from the Book:

“My mother is an elephant and my father is an old man with one arm. Strange, I know, but true.”

“We rode back to the stable in silence. I watched that yellow ball of sun move lower toward the horizon, long rays slanting across Devi Kali’s head. I loved seeing the world from there, feeling the rough skin of her ears as she flipped them against my legs… I think what I feel when I am with Devi Kali is what children sense when their mothers hug them. When Devi Kali looks at me, I see love in her eyes.”

“It struck me then — Father Autry and his peregrine falcon, the Baba and his secret shame, and now my father selling an elephant calf that belonged to the king — all these men had done something that they deeply regretted. When I thought of my life so far, I had done things I regretted, too… It seems easy to say, ‘This is my fate. I cannot change it.’ But we do not have to accept our lives as they are. To put these mistakes behind them and continue on their own paths, to make things right with the universe, that is why I admired them so.”

Currently Reading…

Filmish by Edward Ross and Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

5 comments on “[Monday Reading] Exploring the Beautiful and Complex Bond Between Humans and Animals in “Some Kind of Courage” and “What Elephants Know”

  1. My students are really enjoying Some Kind of Courage. Have you nominated books for the Cybils awards yet? Think of some good ones and see if they have already been nominated!


  2. I hope you enjoy your week of reading. Girl Who Reads


  3. Both of those look like fantastic stories about the bonds between young people and animals, as well as the importance of never giving up, even when the going just seems to hard to take. Thanks for sharing!


  4. I am not a “horse book” person, but I might have to make an exception for Some Kind of Courage.


  5. Ah, the Gemeinhart book is on my list! I’ve read so many reviews that are all over the place. I think I will like it. 🙂 Thanks for sharing! Your review was very enjoyable to read!


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