Follow the Elephant


Follow the Elephant

by Beryl Young


    • Spring 2010
    • ISBN 978-1-55380-098-9
    • 5-1/4″ x 7-5/8″ Trade Paperback, 248 pages
    • Young Reader Novel – Ages 9 to 12

What thirteen-year-old boy wants to travel on a hopeless quest to India with his grandmother? Not Ben Leeson, whose anger about his father’s recent death has led him to escape into the isolated world of computer games. India is the last place Ben ever thought of visiting and his grandmother is the last person he’d ever dreamed of travelling with, but the ticket is already bought and Ben finds himself in India on a search for Gran’s long lost pen pal, Shanti.

In the midst of insufferable heat, strange food and the constant haggling of street beggars, Ben and Gran meet magicians and snake charmers and see bodies burning on funeral pyres. As they search for clues across the huge continent, Ben finds himself strangely compelled to follow the magnificent elephants and the elephant boy-god Ganesh. The challenges of the journey teach Ben that real life can be more exciting than any computer game and that by accepting the dark mysteries of India, he can come to terms with his father’s death.

This adventure quest for children ten and up takes its place among the many captivating adult books about India, and is an invaluable resource for school curriculum studies on world religions.

“A richly colourful, adventure-packed novel — thirteen-year-old Ben’s unlikely trek across the South Asian continent keeps you turning page after page, while the sights, sounds and flavours of India permeate the senses.” —Pamela Porter, Governor General’s Children’s Literature Award Winner 2005 for The Crazy Man

Click here to read a sample from Follow the Elephant


His mother glared at him. “Then take your face out of
that computer, Ben, and be downstairs in two minutes!” She
turned and went back down the stairs.

Ben banged the table with his fist, making his computer
mouse jump. Why did his mother make him so mad? He
knew it wasn’t her fault that his dad had died. But it wasn’t
his either.

These days his mother moped around the house and
never got dressed up, even though she’d started back to
work. She kept serving the same old boring stuff for meals
as though nothing mattered now that they weren’t a real
family. He was mad at that nine-year-old brat Lauren too.
She was back telling dumb knock-knock jokes as though
things could still be funny, even with their father dead.

Everything was different now. There was no Dad to crack
jokes at the dinner table, no Dad to go with on bike rides out
to the university. No Dad to take him to hockey games. He
remembered how excited his dad would get when the
Canucks scored a goal. He’d punch Ben on the arm and say,
“How’s that for a great shot, Beno!”

Just about the only thing that had kept his father from
being perfect was that he smoked. Most of Ben’s friends
thought smoking was definitely lame. Life skills class
drummed that into you in grade three. When his father
coughed it sounded like the old dog next door barfing up
his dinner. His father’s lungs were probably as disgustingly
black as the pictures the teacher showed in class. Ben used to
hide the cigarette packages and beg his father not to smoke.

More than once his dad would announce, “Well, I’ve
finally done it. This is the last of these little killers you’ll see
in my hand.”

Of course they all believed him, and it worked for a while
— then one day Ben would catch his father in the garage
again sneaking a smoke. How could a kid look up to a father
who did that?

One day his dad had said, “I started smoking when I was
young, Ben, and I thought nothing could hurt me. Now it’s
too hard for me to quit.” He’d ruffled Ben’s hair. “Don’t you
make the same mistake.” That same week his dad had cut
down. But it was too late.

Then, after his father had died, the stupid hospice counsellors
kept asking Ben if he’d like to talk. Ben had nothing
to say. He’d been cheated out of having a dad around. End
of story.

What was the point of it all if your father died when he
was still in his forties? What was the point of anything? That
was why Ben liked computer games. You never had to think
about sad things when you were fighting an alien on Battlefront.
Computer games were easy. You knew what you had to

Of course his mother spazzed because he spent so much
time on the computer. But why not play on the computer?
It was way more interesting than school.

School. Well, he’d got himself into a bit of trouble there
too. His friend Mac had talked him into skipping the first
time. It had been simple just to disappear after lunch and fun
to hang out at the mall gawking at all the new computer
stuff. He’d do it again if he got a chance.

As far as Ben could tell, things would be easier if his mum
and dad had divorced. Kids with divorced parents still had
their dads to do things with. Like Jimmy, whose dad had
taken him salmon fishing up at Campbell River last summer.
There was a picture of Jimmy with his father on his
bedroom wall, both of them holding up twenty-pounders.

Ben came into the living room where his mother and his
grandmother were sitting together on the sofa. Gran was his
dad’s mother, and since his father died she was always at the
house. Ben thumped himself down in a chair, crossed his
arms and jammed his fists into his armpits.

Gran offered him some licorice, but he shook his head.
Sweet things were his grandmother’s weakness. She wasn’t
fat, but she was always moaning about gaining weight and
needing more exercise, yet somehow she always had candy
to pass around.

“We’re worried about you, Ben,” said his mother, leaning
forward with her elbows on her knees. Her blue eyes locked
into his the way only a mother’s eyes could.

Ben looked away. “Don’t waste your time.”

His mother pulled out the scrunchie in her ponytail, ran
her fingers through her streaky brown hair and twisted it up
again. “Ben, you’ve changed since your father died. You’re
rude and bad-tempered all the time. You pick fights with
Lauren. You bury yourself in violent games and heaven
knows what else on that computer. I never see you reading a
book. Then last week you skipped school.”

“So? Lauren bugs me and I told you the truth when I said
I’d never skipped before. Besides, computer games aren’t
violent. Battlefront and games like that are good for improving
your reaction time.” Ben scowled across the room.“Why
can’t you just butt out of my life?”

“Sorry, we can’t do that,” his mother said. She looked as
though she might start to cry, but then got herself together.
“I guess I haven’t been the greatest mother lately. In the
months since Dad died, I’ve been a bit lost myself.”

Ben suddenly wanted to go over and give her a hug, but
his shoes were Crazy-glued to the floor and he didn’t move.

Gran interrupted. “Ben, I’ve come up with an idea, and I
need you to listen. Don’t say anything until I’ve finished.”

What was Gran’s brilliant idea now? Private school? A
foster family? He was too young to be sent into the army.
Gran went on. “A long time ago when I was in grade
school, my teacher gave me the address of a girl who lived in
India. Her name was Shanti Mukherjee and she became my
pen pal.”

“What’s a pen pal?”

“It’s someone you write back and forth to. We actually
wrote letters in those days!” Gran laughed. “Shanti was my
age and she went to an Indian girls’ school where she’d
learned English.”

“What does this have to do with me?” Ben asked.

Gran took a deep breath. “I was an only child and I shared
everything with Shanti.When I was sixteen my mother died,
and Shanti wrote letters that made me feel she understood
how sad I was.”Gran brushed her grey hair off her high forehead.

“So?” said Ben, swinging his leg over the chair. “You think
I need a pen pal?”

His grandmother took a small black-and-white photograph
from her wallet and handed it to Ben. It was a picture
of a dark-skinned girl in a school uniform, her hair in thick
braids. On the back was written, Shanti Mukherjee, aged 13.

My age, thought Ben. “Why are you telling me all this?”
He put the photo down on the coffee table.

His mother looked at him sharply. “Please let your grandmother

“Shanti and I hoped we’d meet one day, but then, after
years of writing, we had a disagreement and I never heard
from her again.”

Ben picked at his fingernail. “Can I go now?”

Gran handed Ben an airline ticket. She was smiling. “I
want you to come to India with me to find her.”

Click here to close the book excerpt.

Other Ronsdale books by Beryl Young:

Reviews & Awards

WINNER of a Chocolate Lily 2012 award in the novel category.

WINNER of Silver Medal, Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards

SELECTED for Resource LinksYear’s Best Books 2010

FINALIST in The National Chapter of Canada IODE Violet Downey Book Award, 2011. —Described by the awards committee as “an exceptional book.”

“Beryl Young has written a rich travelogue that brings the sights, sounds, and smells of India to life. Readers who dream of visiting far off places will escape into the pages of this well-paced novel, and Young’s superb descriptions will make India very real in their minds. Young has expertly woven historical and cultural facts about India in with the prose of the novel, making this story one that will not only entertain readers, but teach them as well. Recommended.” —CM Magazine

“A seat of the pants adventure waltzing across the great Indian sub-continent.” Rated G–E (“Good” to “Excellent”) —Resource Links

“This book was a page-turner! I just couldn’t put it down. The book grabbed my attention from the very first pages. . . . five stars out of five!” —Sarah’s Stars

“Fast-paced and full of interesting encounters with Indian people, culture, and food. At the foundation of the story, however, lies a theme: how to live a good life.” —Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 3.1 (2011)

“An engaging read with realistic characters on a realistic journey.” —Keen Readers blog