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Jumbo: The Most Famous Elephant Who Ever Lived by Alexandra Stewart and Emily Sutton

Title: Jumbo: The Most Famous Elephant Who Ever Lived

Author: Alexandra Stewart, Emily Sutton (Illustrator)

Genre: History,

Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 3rd November 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 48

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: Roll up! Roll up! And meet the incredible, the colossal, the world-famous … JUMBO!

Our story begins in 1860, in the mountains of East Africa, where a baby elephant struggles to his feet and takes his first shaky steps …

This is the deeply touching story of an elephant who captured the world’s imagination, brought beautifully to life with enchanting storytelling and gorgeous artwork. Follow Jumbo’s amazing journey from his remote home in the rugged mountains of East Africa and the time he spent delighting visitors with elephant rides and comedy routines at London Zoo. Be amazed by his spectacular stint in P.T. Barnum’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ and how he led a herd of elephants across the newly-built Brooklyn Bridge to test its strength. Discover how Jumbo’s remarkable life and legacy transformed our understanding and treatment of these magnificent creatures.

With a page-turning narrative by Alexandra Stewart and breathtakingly beautiful artwork by Emily Sutton, the true story of Jumbo’s incredible life will fascinate young and old alike.


Circuses are a rare thing these days, especially ones with animals, and back in the late nineteenth century, zoos weren’t the conservation centres that many are today, such as Taronga Zoo in Sydney, where they work on programs to protect endangered species and awareness of what people can do to help throughout their facility. We have Jumbo to thank for these measures, and how we treat and look after animals.

In 1860, Jumbo was taken from his home in Africa to London Zoo, where he was quite the attraction – so much so that he attracted the attention of P.T.  Barnum, who ran one of the world’s most well-known circuses at the time, and these days, a circus like that would be controversial for many reasons, including the way the animals were treated. The book chronicles Jumbo’s life – twenty-one years, and the power of his connection with his companion who never left his side, Matthew Scott, who understood the pain Jumbo was feeling, or could at least see that the elephant was lonely, and as Alexandra outlines, elephants are social animals.

It is beautifully illustrated, and gently tells of the awful things Jumbo went through in detailed narrative – so perhaps this is for slightly older readers as some of the story and images might upset younger readers. It is a good resource to talk about animal conservation, and the role that people like P.T. Barnum and early zoos played in exploiting animals. It shows that putting them in circuses or tiny cages is not the way to go, and also shows us what we have learned from, Jumbo’s experience, and what to do going forward – how conservation societies care for elephants these days, ensuring the survival of this majestic species.

Jumbo’s story led to the discussions about animal welfare still going on today, and conservation programs in zoos and sanctuaries that seek to protect and find ways to keep animals in the wild and prevent poaching and habitat destruction as well. One such park is Bayete Zulu in South Africa, where two elephants, Rachel and Rambo, were rescued after their herd was culled. Like Jumbo, they had become used to human companionship whilst being held by the people culling their herd, and they’ve lived for many years at Bayete Zulu, where they can wander open spaces, but each have their own companion following them around, and where their story is used to teach visitors about these remarkable creatures that feel loneliness as deeply as humans. I was lucky enough to meet Rachel and Rambo seven years ago, and their story has stayed with me. Reading about Jumbo reminded me of them.

This beautifully put together book is exceptionally researched, written and illustrated, and filled with so many emotions, that it is a book that definitely needs to be savoured. It is a good learning resource, and one that I hope reminds people of the importance of animals and the beauty of elephants. It is a sombre story, with moments of hope, and one that everyone should read. It will be useful in schools as well, and will teach children about something that we may not know much about, which is what good books can do.

A touching and evocative story.

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