Stay mindful and boost your wellbeing on a colourful jungle stroll with Elmer

Who is this book for?

Sharing at storytime or reading independently   2-5 years

Exploring through play and creative activities   2+ years

Used sensitively and inventively as a springboard for PSHE and SMSC, P4C-style discussion and creative cross-curricular activities   4-10 years

Adapt our activities to suit your children’s interests and abilities

About this book

Go for a colourful jungle stroll with Elmer to find out why he stops and stares - and why the other animals miss out on all the fun!

Elmer first appeared in picturebook form back in 1968 but McKee revised the artwork and text for Andersen Press who republished the book in 1989 - so 2019 marks thirty years continuously in print. Happy 30th Birthday, Elmer!Elmer has been a favourite with children and their families for many years, and it’s easy to see why. He’s a fun-loving optimist who thinks for himself, cares about others and is a dab hand at getting everyone to work together – qualities that endear him to his readers and ensure there’s plenty to unpack and build on should you choose to share these books with older kids.

Given his talents, it comes as no surprise to learn that Elmer’s notched up an impressive record as a problem-solver. From rescuing stranded elephants and banishing hunters to re-colouring the rainbow, Elmer’s ability to grapple kindly, creatively and effectively with the big issues of the day have made him indispensable. Elmer’s patchwork colours have always stood for individuality and diversity, and now they’re the mark of the jungle’s most effective leader, too.

So how does Elmer nourish his inner elephant and ensure he’s always ready for a challenge? 

Playing and laughing with family and friends comes high on his list - but we’ve long known that “thinking walks” are a favoured Elmer tactic, too. And in Elmer’s Walk, the quietly hilarious and deeply mindful latest title in the series, we’re finally allowed to accompany him. 

With 27 core picturebooks (and counting!) the Elmer collection covers a wider range of subjects than you might expect. Key themes running through many of the books include commonalities and differences, empathy and other points of view, individuality and self-esteem, cross-generational relationships, working together, fun and games, colour and pattern, problem-solving, family and friends, weather and landscape, community and belonging, diversity, independent thinking, making and sharing memories, decoration and disguise, altruism, mindfulness and change 

Elmer notices an elephant-shaped cloud, but the hippos are too busy to take a look!            Copyright David McKee for Andersen Press

Why have we chosen it?

Perfectly pitched for their young audience, the Elmer stories deliver plenty of action and knockabout humour within an emotionally-literate and values-driven framework that engages, challenges and reassures

There’s so much in Elmer’s Walk to enjoy and explore, and lots to inspire a diverse range of activities, from expeditions to storymaking (where were those elephants going, and why were they rushing?) and even modelling a jungle habitat complete with McKee-style plants and trees. And if you read this book alongside others from the collection, more doors will open.

Emotional literacy and a values-driven framework lie at the heart of Elmer’s storyworld, with issues such as empathy, belonging and self-esteem addressed in a way that even the youngest of audiences can engage with. Elmer himself has become an ambassador for diversity and individuality, with The Guardian newspaper naming him an LGBTQ hero in 2014 for notching up a quarter-century of “opening people’s minds to accepting difference and being themselves.” 

Elmer’s storyworld has a surprising amount to offer older readers too – there’s a depth and integrity to these books that make them a rich starting point for PSHE and P4C-style ethical discussions, as well as creative and investigative cross-curricular activities. 

Sharing and talking about this book

Before sharing this book, spend some time looking at the cover and discussing it. Do you recognise these elephants? What do you think they’re talking about? How do you think they’re feeling? What makes you think that?

Elmer notices what’s going on in the world around him and thinks for himself. He is tuned into his own emotions and those of others, which helps him solve problems in a gentle and constructive way, and he is extremely kind. Time spent considering Elmer’s personality will give children insight into their own attributes and behaviours and those of other people

The book is called Elmer’s Walk. Do you like going for walks or expeditions? What kind do you like best, and where do you go? Where do you think Elmer’s walking in this book?

Share the story and talk about it. Why don’t the animals stop and talk to Elmer? What do they miss as a result? Do you think Elmer minds? Which picture did you like best, and why? 

Does anybody in this story learn anything, do you think? Do we, as readers? What ideas are explored in this book alongside the action?

Talk about personal attributes (kindness, optimism, bravery...) and the adjectives we use to describe people’s personalities and behaviour (gentle, enthusiastic, helpful) What do these attributes and behaviours look like in action? What are Elmer’s personal attributes in this book, and how would you describe his behaviour and personality? 

Reading and talking about one Elmer book is always fun, because there’s lots to notice, think about, enjoy and discuss. Sharing more than one is even better - you’ll be able to recognize characters and settings, compare plots and build a bigger picture of Elmer’s storyworld!

Tell us what you think....

How will you use this book? We’d love to hear about your experiences!

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What next? Activities...

When Elmer’s busy or needs some thinking space, he goes for a walk. But even when he’s thinking, he’s never too busy to notice the wonders of the natural world….

“We don’t have time, Elmer, we’re hurrying somewhere…” 

Talk about being busy  - what does it mean and how does it make you feel? Who’s busy in this book, and what do they miss as a result? Talk about mindfulness and try some observation and focus games.

What does this book tell us about Elmer? For example, he takes time to appreciate the simple things in life, he wants to share his enjoyment with everyone, he is persistent...

‘Do an Elmer’ and go for a walk along a route you know well, taking time to notice things you’ve never noticed before. Use all your senses to engage with them - be curious, ask questions and let your imaginations work overtime! Bring friends and family on your walk, and record your adventures using voice memos, videos and photography so that you can share the fun and build on it.

Or visit somewhere new, like a park or woodland, and explore this environment by taking special notice of what your senses are telling you. How do different locations smell and sound? Use blindfold games to explore your sense of touch and encourage children to notice colours, patterns and details as well as overall impressions. Can you taste anything? What do you notice about the wind and weather, the position of the sun and the level of natural light? Discuss, draw, collect and record, then make a display about what you’ve done.

You don’t have to walk to be mindful - how about watching the night arrive, like Elmer and Wilbur at the end of this book?

Elmer notices a log shaped like a crocodile               Copyright David McKee for Andersen Press

Look at the pictures showing the elephants passing through the jungle. Can you copy their postures and expressions? How would they move, do you think? Have a go at walking like an elephant – don’t forget to swing your trunk! – then plod, stamp, clump and stomp your way around the room. Play elephant-follow-my-leader, copying the movements of the elephant at the front of the line. How many different ways of moving like an elephant can you find?

Find some music for your elephants to move to (The Elephant from The Carnival of the Animals by Saint Saens works well) and let the parade begin!

Copyright David McKee for Andersen Press

From Elmer’s patchwork to the richly-imagined foliage of McKee’s jungle backdrop, colour and pattern play an important role in this book. How many colours can you spot and name? Which patterns do you like best, and why? 

Would you like to have a patchwork coat like Elmer’s? Wear as many different colours as you can!

Why are Elmer and Wilbur the only patterned elephants, do you think? To find out more about Elmer’s patchwork colours read Elmer, Elmer Again, Elmer and Wilbur and Elmer’s Special Day. 

To take this further, try these multisensory colour and pattern activities

  • Use a lightbox to explore colour mixing with translucent materials
  • Make coloured playdough and slime. Use for sensory exploration, as a base for small world play and as a prompt for talking and writing (older children could test different recipes in search of the best dough or slime!)
  • Investigate colour mixing by putting coloured ice cubes in glasses of warm water and watching as the colours blend
  • Put blobs of coloured paint in ziplock plastic bags and squish to blend 
  • Explore refraction, light, surface tension and rainbow patterns using bubble blower
  • Make colourful butterfly prints inspired by Elmer and Butterfly
  • Taste some colourful food
  • Explore finger and body paint outdoors
  • Use tessellating shapes to create patchwork designs
  • Make patterned blocks and print your own patchwork patterns
  • Have a go at traditional sewn patchwork techniques
Patterns from Elmer's Special Day                   Copyright David McKee for Andersen Press

The elephants love Elmer because of his differences, and not in spite of them       David McKee talking about the Elmer books

In this book Elmer seems happy and relaxed about his differences – his patchwork colours reflect nicely in the water and he doesn’t feel the need to rush and miss the wonders all around. But Elmer hasn’t always been like this! In the first book he spends all night worrying about being different and eventually decides to dye himself grey, like the other elephants – you can read about it in Elmer, and find out what happens next in Elmer Again. 

Are there times when you want to fit into a group, and times when you don’t? How does it feel to stand out from the crowd? How should the herd behave towards elephants who are different? How can individuals resist pressure to think and behave like other people? Should we always resist that pressure? Why/why not?

Elmer’s patchwork is multicoloured, Wilbur’s is black and white and Aunt Zelda’s is blue and purple  (and diamond-shaped!) What would your colours look like? Draw a picture of yourself in your patchwork elephant skin. Why have you chosen these colours? What do they say about you?

"Elmer is really about accepting who you are, about celebrating difference. We are all different, with so many differences – difference of colour, of accents, but also of size, shape and how we dress. The differences are what make the world so rich. It’s strange because we humans seem to like differences in other things – in dogs and trees and flowers – but we don’t accept it in people. If people aren’t like us we don’t accept them. Elmer tried to be like the other elephants but in the end he has to be himself.” David McKee commenting on a gallery of Elmer artwork in the Guardian: find it here Celebrating Difference

What do the pictures tell us about Elmer’s jungle storyworld? How many different locations and plants can you spot? Draw a sketchmap to show the setting for Elmer’s Walk and mark the key events.

What do you know about jungles and rainforests? What can you find out? Is Elmer’s jungle a real place, do you think? Why/why not?

To create your own Elmer-inspired jungle playscape, provide card, tissue paper, recycled containers and colouring materials so that children can make McKee-style trees, plants and other props. Place alongside rocks and sand in a container, together with real and artificial plants and other materials to create a jungle scene. Supply small-world jungle animals for children to explore and animate. Encourage them to create characters, dialogues, adventures and storylines and record via photographs and audio files. Use to inspire writing and bookmaking.

For older children

Read Elmer’s Walk alongside Elmer’s other adventures and compare the settings - some of the main locations are listed below. Draw a map of Elmer’s jungle storyworld, marking the vegetation shown in the books, the geographical features and the locations of key events. 

Pretend you’re scientists visiting Elmer’s jungle. Make sketches of the plants and trees, and write notes about these strange new specimens. How many different types of plants can you find? Give them names and invent more species. 

 

Geographical features and locations in Elmer's storyworld include

Red Rock Pass – Elmer and the Race, Elmer and the Hippos

Waterfall – Elmer and Aunt Zelda, Elmer’s Walk, Elmer and the Rainbow

Path across white cliff to cave – Elmer and Butterfly

White cliffs – Elmer, Rose and Super El, Elmer and Butterfly, Elmer’s Walk

Stepping stones – Elmer and Grandpa Eldo

Lake – Elmer and Rose

River – Elmer and the Hippos, Elmer’s Walk, Elmer and the Rainbow, Elmer Again, Elmer and Snake, Elmer and the Whales

Caves – Elmer and Big Bird, Elmer and the Rainbow, Elmer and Butterfly

Red rocks – Elmer’s Walk, Elmer and Super El, Elmer and the Hippos, Elmer and the Tune

Night sky –Elmer’s Walk, Elmer and the Lost Teddy

Scrub – Elmer and the Tune

Bamboo thicket – Elmer and the Tune, Elmer on Stilts

Aerial view – Elmer and the Wind, Elmer and Big Bird

Underwater – Elmer and the Tune

The deep-dark monkey forest – Elmer and the Tune, Elmer and the Monster 

Going up the mountain and emerging from pinetrees into snow – Elmer’s Christmas, Elmer and the Snow

Mapping the course of the river to the sea (including the Red Gorge and the rapids) – Elmer and the Whales

And for jungle trees, plants and flowers – all the books!

Elmer and Lion at the red rocks in Elmer and Super El               Copyright David McKee for Andersen Press

Paint wall hangings and friezes with McKee-inspired trees and plants. Hang netting from the ceiling and attach creepers and flowers made from rolled newspapers, fabric offcuts and tissue paper. Add extra touches of your own (a butterfly mobile, a green carpet, a ‘river’ made from scrunched fabric and mirror card…) together with comfortable patchwork cushions or beanbags. And don’t forget a library of Elmer books! 

Elmer is an optimist, someone who likes to connect with friends and make life better for those around him. Which life-enhancing books would you choose to put in a ‘Feelgood Library’ for Elmer? Make booklists and collect titles to add to your reading corner.

Copyright David McKee for Andersen Press

If you liked this, try...

Elmer's Special Day by David McKee, published by Andersen Press 2011

Elmer and the Hippos by David McKee, published by Andersen Press 2011

Elmer and Grandpa Eldo by David McKee, published by Andersen Press 2010

Giraffes Can't Dance
 by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees, published by Orchard Books 1999

Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler, published by Macmillan 2016

Rumble in the Jungle by Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz, published by Orchard Books 1998

The Parrot Tico Tango by Anna Witte, reissued 2019 by Barefoot Books

Your Mind is Like the Sky by Bronwen Ballard and Laura Carlin, published by Lincoln Children's Books 2019

Other resources and information

For Elmer Day resources and activities produced by Andersen Press, visit www.elmerday.co.uk

Seven Stories, the UK's national centre for children's books in Newcastle upon Tyne, is currently showing a retrospective of David McKee's work, including original illustrations from the Elmer books as well as artwork from Not Now Bernard and Mr Benn. The exhibition features an array of exciting discoveries for children and their adults including a giant Elmer jigsaw, an interactive dress-up area based on the costume shop in Mr Benn and lots of other multisensory elements. The exhibition runs until May 2020, when it will begin a UK tour to other venues. For opening times and further information click here

For an article about Elmer in the online magazine Books for Keeps click here

The UK-based public arts organisation Wild in Art is organising Elmer Parade sculpture trails in three UK locations during the summer and autumn of 2019

Suffolk Elmer's Big Parade Suffolk 2019

Tyne and Wear Elmer's Great North Parade 2019

Devon Elmer's Big Parade Plymouth 2019

Copyright: Cast of Thousands 2019 All rights reserved.
This article/information may be printed freely for use in schools and other learning settings but may not be reproduced in any other format without the permission of Cast of Thousands

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