Friday, April 19, 2024
The Gradual Elephant

The Gradual Elephant

by Mark Warner
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Buy This Book * More books by H. S. Toshack

Mpole is a 12 year old African elephant who has been forced to leave the Herd. He must now prove himself by passing The Seven Tests (Mitihani Saba) so that he can become Accepted as a young male.

Mpole’s problem, however is that he does things gradually…and that includes thinking. How can he possibly succeed?

Teaching Ideas and Resources:


  • The book begins with a journey to an unusual place. Why do you think authors often base their stories on journeys?
  • We soon learn that Sheena is curious by nature. How does that help the author develop his story?
  • List the things that make Sheena an effective heroine in this story. Give examples if you wish. Does she show any weaknesses? If so, say what they are.
  • List the things that make Mpole the ‘hero’ of the story.
  • Read aloud any of the passages of dialogue (conversation) in the book. Try to give the animals different voices from each other, and choose suitable voices for particular animals. Experiment!
  • Nearly every chapter involves the solving of a problem. Write down what the main problem is, in each chapter.
  • Tell a story of your own about a problem and how it was solved.
  • Think about some of the ways in which the author plays with words to produce amusing effects. How do they add to our enjoyment of a) Sheena’s character, and b) the story as a whole?
  • Thomas soon gets tired of old elephant jokes and begins to make up elephant-and-computer jokes. Make up some of your own, and share them with the class.
  • Examine the different ways the characters in the story speak to one another (e.g. cheekily, respectfully, urgently). What does that tell us about them and their relationships?
  • ‘The Gradual Elephant’ is the second book in the ‘Paka Mdogo’ series. How, in its first two chapters, does the author link this story with the first book?
  • If a friend asked you whether or not you would recommend ‘The Gradual Elephant’ as a good book to read, what would you say? (Give more than one reason for your answer.)


  • Re-read the advice Sheena gives Mpole on Pages 121-122 about how to answer questions in a test. Which pieces of advice might you find helpful in dealing with mathematical problems?


  • Imagine that Sheena has been seen and studied by some animal researchers working in Baragandiri. They think they have discovered a new species of mammal. Write an entry for her in a Nature Magazine, announcing the new discovery. Head the entry ‘NEW SPECIES!’ and think up a Latin-sounding scientific name.
  • Find out about different types of poisonous snake and the effects of their poison on humans and animals. What first aid should be given to someone who has been bitten by a snake?
  • List the different kinds of food the creatures in the story eat, and say how they get it.
  • Try to find out more about endangered species and what is being done to protect them.
  • Explain how fire is both a useful and a dangerous thing, and list ways in which we can safeguard ourselves against it.
  • Re-read the explanation of Archimedes’ Principle in Chapter Ten, and say how it plays an important part in our lives.


  • Make a table in which you list (in Column 1) all the characters who appear in the story, in the order in which they appear. In Column 2 give each character a number according to how much you liked it (1 being your favourite). Then use the table options to rearrrange the list of characters in the order: most likeable first, least likeable last.


  • Choose your favourite illustration from the story. Explain why you like it and how it helps the reader.
  • Choose an episode that has not been illustrated, and draw an illustration of your own to show what is happening.


  • Learn, and sing, The Hippopotamus Song. The words are available here.


  • Look at the map on Pages 6-7. Imagine it without the animal tracks, and try to forget the events of the story. Plan a safari of your own in the Park. Where would you camp? Where would you go? What would you hope to see?
  • How do maps help us?
  • Make a map of your own for a book you have enjoyed.
  • Describe what you think life would be like for the people who live in Kinga Village.
  • The story is set in Baragandiri National Park. Can you find the locations of other national parks in your country and other countries? Which one would you most like to visit? Why?
  • Find out about the problems that arise when National Parks and human communities are close to each other.


  • We read this on Pages 105-106 about the Only Elephant: ‘It all happened so long ago that he’s also the only one who was alive then who’s still alive now. That’s another reason why he’s called the Only Elephant – he’s the only one who knows some of the things he knows.’
  • Discuss why it is important to record the distant memories of old people. Ask an elderly relative or family friend to tell you about something important that they remember happening when they were young. Write down what they say. Explain what seems to be special about their particular memory of the event.


  • The Chapters all have Kiswahili titles. As you read each chapter, see if you can work out what the title means in English. (You can check your ideas against on the Contents page – but don’t look at that first!) What clues have you used to understand the Kiswahili?


  • What have you learnt from this story about the problems of growing up, and how to deal with some of them?
  • Read again the description of ‘Peer Pressure’ on Page 74. Has there been a time when you felt forced by peer pressure to do something you didn’t really want to do? Can you think of a way in which you might have resisted that pressure?
  • Do girls treat boys differently from the way boys treat girls? Discuss that question with some of the other children in your class – both boys and girls.
  • List some of the ways in which Sheena helps Mpole to think for himself.
  • Discuss with other members of the class whether you think it was right for Mpole to trample the vultures in Chapter Eight. It may help you to re-read Page 119 and the beginning of Page 120.

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