CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 40. . . .June 18, 2010
Elf is an unusual Bald Eagle in that he is afraid of heights. In fact, from the moment he chips through his egg, he is anxious about everything he encounters. When his older sister eagerly launches into her first flight, Elf is certain she is leaping to her death below. And when it’s time for his inaugural flight, Elf is too fearful to voluntarily leave his comfy nest - despite loving support from his parents and jeering encouragement from his now fledgling sister. It’s not until he accidentally falls out of the nest and responds to his parents’ desperate screams that he finally masters both flight and his fears. In so doing, he quickly discovers the pure joy of “wheeling and soaring in the blue, blue sky.”
Like Elf, author Ron Smith has a fear of heights and knows first-hand how scary it feels and how hard it is to overcome such fears. He seamlessly combines natural history and expressive language to weave Elf’s story. He uses similes galore to help children grasp the concepts. Consequently, the newborn chick’s legs were as wobbly “as if he were trying to stand on a pool of jellyfish” and “everything he looked at was as fuzzy as a pussy willow.” That Elf didn’t suddenly become brave and begin flying on his own is appropriate but that he learned to relax and even enjoy flying once he experienced some success is an excellent message to convey to apprehensive children.
Illustrator Ruth Campbell draws on her own experience of working with fledgling birds at a wildlife rescue. She depicts the natural changes in Elf’s growth from a fluffy white newborn to a dull brown fledgling who has yet to obtain the characteristic white head and tail feathers of his Bald Eagle parents. The habitat of the eagles’ nest is authentically portrayed as well. But, most importantly, Campbell has created an appealing wide-eyed chick with fearful expressions that will tug at little heart-strings. Her final picture of Elf as a confident fledgling observing a glorious dawn sky emphasizes the contrast between satisfaction that mastering one’s fears brings along with promises of a brighter future.
Children naturally respond to young animals, and this story of a timid bird who literally learns to fly may help them face their own fears and inspire them to take those first steps towards independence.
Alison Mews is the Coordinator of the Curriculum Materials Centre in the Faculty of Education, the Memorial University of NL in St. John’s, NL.
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