04 Aug / Balarama: A Royal Elephant by Ted and Betsy Lewin
Husband-and-wife author/illustrators, Ted Lewin and Betsy Lewin, who also happen to both be individual Caldecott Honor winners, travel the world in search of adventure. Their latest book together combines the experiences of two trips to Mysore, India in 1997 and 1998 during which they came up close and personal with the royal elephants of southern India.
Every year during Dasara, a centuries-old Hindu festival celebrated in the fall, a lead elephant carries the golden howdah, an 800-pound ceremonial carriage. The majestic, much beloved Drona who has a penchant for bananas has been that lead in Mysore for many years. So enthralled are the Lewins with the charming elephant that they return to India a year later to experience Dasara for themselves. Their return is met with tragic news: Drona was killed when a falling branch brought down a live electric wire on him. His replacement is the eponymous Balarama who must be trained to be the next star.
While the Lewins’ adventure story undoubtedly will draw in readers (albeit it’s somewhat bittersweet given the elephants’ lives in captivity and servitude, regardless of all the glory their handlers and audience bestow on them), the real power of this latest Lewin collaboration is the mixing-and-matching of their distinctively different illustration styles: Ted’s portrait of Drona literally seems to extend out far beyond the flat page, while Betsy’s more whimsical, colored line drawings perfectly capture the energy of the large beasts frolicking with the laughing children. The two trade pages back and forth until the penultimate spread when both artists appear together, making for a perfect family portrait, new elephant-ine friend and all.