Title: Small as an Elephant
Author: Jennifer Richard Jacobson
ISBN: 9780763641559
Pages: 275 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press, c2011.

It’s gotta be lunchtime, he thought, kicking off his sleeping bag. Why hadn’t she woken him up? He raced the tent zipper around its track and scrambled out into fresher air.
The rental car was gone! He stood there, rooted, as if his eyes just had to adjust to the light, had to let forms take shape, and the car would be there, right where she’d left it. But the car was really gone. So was the little tent his mother had pitched on the gravelly ground next to his. […]
All that was left on the site was Jack and his Hubba [tent].” (2-3)

Eleven-year-old Jack Martel wakes up during a camping trip with his mother over Labor Day weekend to discover his mother gone. While any other kid would get help from someone, Jack’s mother has had problems before, and Jack is afraid he’ll be taken away permanently from his mom if he reports her disappearance. With a dead cell phone and no idea how to contact her, Jack heads off for the one place he’s hoping his mom will think to look for him. But striking out across Maine with no money or food is going to draw some attention, and Jack must avoid the cops if he’s going to find his mom before they do.

The author’s note on the back jacket talks about how Jennifer Richard Jacobson actually traced Jack’s route, since every place he visits actually exists. I visited Arcadia National Park several years ago, and I wish I’d had this book with me at the time. It makes me want to go back and also trace Jack’s route, from the bed and breakfast to the Jesup Memorial Library, the sports store where he spends a night, and the bookstore with the huge vault. Jack’s survival instincts are impressive, and I appreciated how realistic his actions were. By the end, he’s doing whatever he can to survive and not get caught, and he’s stressed and confused and scared. There are tears and rage and defeat, all the emotions that readers feel along with him in this touching story.

Jacobson includes quotes about the elephant from a multitude of sources, ranging from Abrahama Lincoln and Henry David Thoreau to Kate DiCamillo. There are also facts about the elephant that bring alive Jack’s fascination with this animal. Readers learn that elephants have refused to eat posioned food, have secretly practiced their tricks at night, and even aid in the germination of seeds. Who wouldn’t develop a foundness for these creatures after seeing them in this new light?

The ending strikes the perfect chord between hope and bittersweetness, and would be a great selection for book discussion groups.