a quirky tale about doing what needs to be done

by Michael Escoffier, illustrated by Matthieu Maudet - Gecko Press, NZ, 2012
ages 2 to 10 years / funny, imagination

When I was a (somewhat opinionated) child, my grandmother liked to remind me that “discretion is the better part of valour.” She meant, of course, that sometimes I would be more likely to win the battle if I just quietly went about my business instead of loudly insisting on immediate justice.

There’s a little girl in this story who completely understands! 

Elsa's family is frantically running around getting rid of the mammoth that appeared in their fridge, apparently out of nowhere, while she watches, worries a little and waits. 

She’s a determined girl though and very capable, so once the family and the fire brigade have left the mammoth in a leafy tree (because ‘We could be here till autumn’ and ‘It’s not our problem’), Elsa goes back to retrieve the mammoth – who turns out to be part of her mythical menagerie.

It’s an unexpected and funny ending to an engaging and quirky book.

One of the things that make this book great is Elsa’s role – she looks like a secondary character until the very end, when it turns out the story was really about her all along. A nice lesson about the importance of noticing people.

Other things to appreciate:

The family calls the ‘fire brigade’ rather than ‘firemen’.   

All the language is conversation – no descriptors or narration whatsoever. Great for learning about language and a whole lot of fun to read aloud since different tones or voices are called for. (Or, if playing with voices is not your thing, just point to the characters as you read their lines.)

The illustrations have a hip and friendly vibe – there are just a few colors and plenty of lines, which are brilliantly employed to lend all sorts of emotion to each character. The expressions on Elsa’s face are especially endearing.

There’s a nice conversation to be had about why the Dad says ‘it’s not our problem’ and whether that is true. And a follow-up conversation about secrets and when it’s okay to not tell something. (That’s an important conversation but one that really isn’t the main point of this story.)

There's a page with the words “Wheee-ooo!” running the whole width – fun to say and great for pre-readers.

And the book would work well as part of a cluster of stories dealing with discrimination – the fire brigade and the family overlook the mammoth’s potential as a pet because of their pre-conditioned responses.

If you have “A Fish Out of Water” memorised because you’ve read it so often and you’re ready for something fresh – and shorter – this could be the book for you. It has a similar feel and humour to it and it’s way quicker to read.

Also ... every once in a while, I discover that I’ve been buying up books by a particular author without even noticing – three of Michael Escoffier’s books have joined our library recently. A Mammoth in the Fridge, Take Away the A and Me First!  They’re all great and if you'd like to add some of his marvellous books to your own library, you’ll find a bunch of them here. It could be fun to have matching copies in English and French to compare and polish your French!

You can buy A Mammoth in the Fridge via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia and you might also like to read our review on TED, it's a nice fit (pun intended). 

Names in this book - Noah, Elsa