The Snow Covered Elephant In The Room

OUR BABY FandGs_web

FandG’s for my new book with Varsha Bajaj, coming Summer 2016

Two things have been on my mind in recent days:

  1. Winter. 
    I’m about to head to Wisconsin to be with family for the holidays and get all snowed in and cozy for a spell.
  2. Elephants.
    I just got the F&G’s in for a picture book that I illustrated earlier this year, called This Is Our Baby, Born Today, written by Varsha Bajaj, about the first day that a jungle community welcomes its newest member, a baby elephant.

One might think that these two subjects wouldn’t coexist well, until that great 1979 picture book comes to mind:

BUT NO ELEPHANTS, by Jerry Smath. This was one of my childhood favorites. On revisiting it, I was reminded of why it was so great.

To set the scene: Grandma Tildy lives alone with the job of maintaining her little home in a very weather-y part of picture book land, which creates a lot of work for Grandma Tildy. A traveling pet salesman visits Grandma Tildy, and with each pet that she buys, each seems to find a perfect way of assisting her. With each purchase, she declares, “Very well. But no elephants!”

The story builds up to wintertime, where the scenes get increasingly cozy and perfect, yet we know what has to come eventually . . .
Skip to the saddest thing ever: an abandoned, snow covered elephant crying alone outside the house.

ButNoElephants_JerrySmathIt becomes inevitable . . . Grandma Tildy MUST take this poor big guy in. And then things go horribly wrong, as she knew they would. But, this problem she’s been avoiding doesn’t turn out all bad, and problems give rise to wonderfully sunny solutions.

This book has that similar “everything goes wrong” cringe-worthy element as HENRY’S AWFUL MISTAKE (which I discuss here), but is different in that it slowly builds cozy, happy scenes before dashing them all to pieces. One thing picture book writers have to decide is when to bring in the problem: do you create a domino effect of things going wrong right from the start, or do you set up a perfect world that a problem comes in and messes up? In the case of this story, it’s nice that things are working well first, and Grandma Tildy’s problems are seemingly being solved before the real problem hits.

As the way things always seem to go, if we set up our lives up on a delicate balance where everything is perfect, as long as that one thing doesn’t happen, it seems that one thing will always eventually happen. What’s demonstrated in BUT NO ELEPHANTS, is that sometimes the problem we resist the most can give rise to solutions to many problems all at once. The problem  becomes a vehicle to a new and wonderful place, where everything has expanded, everything can be included, and there’s harmony and enjoyment for all. In this case, the vehicle is in the form of an old house traveling on the legs of a pet elephant.

If you’d like a book that features cozy, wintery scenes, but isn’t holiday specific, or want to see about how to set up a great picture book story, or need a good reminder of how to make the best of looming problems you may be resisting in your life, I recommend this one.


Eliza Wheeler

Eliza Wheeler is the author-illustrator of MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS (Penguin), which debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list. She also illustrated Holly Black’s Newbery Honor winning novel DOLL BONES (Simon & Schuster), Pat Zietlow Miller’s picture book WHEREVER YOU GO (Little Brown), Mara Rockliff’s picture book THE GRUDGE KEEPER (Peachtree), and Tricia Springstubb's new middle grade series CODY (Candlewick). Eliza received the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Grand Prize Award for best portfolio at the 2011 SCBWI National Conference. Eliza is a northern Wisconsin native currently living with her husband in Los Angeles, California. See her work at


  1. Congratulations on illustrating another lovely book that is coming soon. I liked how you tied your visit to winter weather and two elephant books. Like you, I always loved No More Elephants. Thanks for discussing plot and decisions about when to bring in the problem. That was helpful.

    Happy holidays and time with family!

  2. Congratulations on the new book! Love the cover!! and can’t wait to read it.
    And anytime we get a reminder of what makes other storylines work – is always a bonus. Safe travels and Happy Holidays!

  3. Sounds like a lot of wisdom in BUT NO ELEPHANTS. Thanks for sharing–I haven’t read it. And your upcoming book looks like another charmer. Congratulations, Eliza!

  4. LOVE elephants!!! Cannot wait to read this one. The illustrations are adorable! Thanks for sharing, Eliza :).

  5. Your new book looks great! I can’t resist a baby elephant. I’m going to look for But No Elephants at my library. Thx!

  6. Congrats on your new book. I can’t wait to read it and see your fabulous art, Eliza. And I appreciate the writerly discussion too. 🙂

  7. Thanks for the inside scoop on this upcoming book. Sounds wonderful!

  8. Thanks for spreading the good news about your new elephant book and its connection to your childhood favorite “But No Elephants.” I’m looking forward to reading both, and I’m especially excited to see how they compare to another new PB called “Strictly No Elephants.” I, myself, adore elephants and I can’t imagine why some people don’t. 🙂

  9. Congratulations, Eliza! And thank you for sharing about “But No Elephants”, I’m anxious to check it out. Happy Holidays, I hope you’re enjoying your family time!

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