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Children's Nonfiction Elephants

Elephant Journey

The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and their Rescue from Captivity

by (author) Rob Laidlaw

illustrated by Brian Deines

Pajama Press Inc.
Initial publish date
Nov 2015
Elephants, Zoos, Animal Welfare
Recommended Age
6 to 9
Recommended Grade
1 to 4
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2015
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Download Teacher’s Guide

Where to buy it


An illustrated true account of three ailing elephants’ journey from a cold Canadian zoo to a sanctuary in California, where they were healed by the warmer climate and more suitable terrain.

In 2013, people across North America were riveted by the story of Toka, Thika, and Iringa, the last three elephants at the zoo in Toronto, Ontario. Lonely for a larger herd, sick from the cold climate, and weak from standing for long days in a too-small concrete enclosure, the elephants desperately needed a change. The zoo and animal activists agreed that they should be moved to a healthier home, but the best option—the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in distant California—seemed like an impossible dream.

In Elephant Journey, leading activist and award-winning author Rob Laidlaw unfolds the journey of how that impossible dream was realized. In clear, straightforward prose, he describes the elephants’ experiences on the journey of three days and 4,100 kilometers that brought them to the sanctuary at last. Celebrated illustrator Brian Deines’ oil paintings, based on actual footage of the trip, provide an intimate window into the experiences of Toka, Thika, and Iringa as they braved their long road to a new life. Extensive back matter includes an index, photographs, and further information about this miraculous Elephant Journey.

About the authors

For more than thirty years, Rob Laidlaw has devoted his life to protecting animals. He is the founder of several animal protection organizations, including Zoocheck Canada, a wildlife protection group. His special interest in dogs has led him to visit dog shelters, pounds, and rescue centers in North America, India, Thailand and Japan and several other countries. Rob started a project to bring humane dog control to remote First Nations communities in Canada, was Chief Inspector for a major urban humane society, was Project Manager for World Society for Protection of Animals. Rob resides in Toronto, Ontario.

Rob Laidlaw's profile page

BRIAN DEINES has illustrated numerous books for children, including SkySisters


(written by Jan BourdeauWaboose), Dragonfly Kites (written by Thomson Highway),


and One Hockey Night (written by DavidWard). He has been nominated for

numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Ruth and

Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Literature Award, the Martha Baillie Picture Book

Award, and the Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award. A native of Red Deer, Alberta,

Brian lives in Toronto.

Brian Deines' profile page


  • Short-listed, Silver Birch Express Award
  • Short-listed, Hackmatack Children's Choice Award
  • Short-listed, Red Cedar Book Award
  • Short-listed, Best Books for Kids & Teens selection

Excerpt: Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and their Rescue from Captivity (by (author) Rob Laidlaw; illustrated by Brian Deines)

Like all wild elephant females, Toka and Iringa would have stayed with their mother and family group their whole life. Their male brothers would eventually leave to create their own groups and find other females. But Toka and Iringa were captured and brought to a zoo in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Thika was born at the zoo nearly ten years after they arrived. She never lived in the wild.

Editorial Reviews

About Elephant Journey

2017 Hackmatack Children's Choice Award shortlist

2017 Silver Birch Express Award shortlist

2016 Red Cedar Book Award shortlist

2016 Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids & Teens selection

"I highly recommend that you read Elephant Journey. Rob Laidlaw and Brian Deines have produced a beautiful story in colour of the rescue of three elephants from a zoo, and their heartwarming arrival at the PAWS sanctuary where they can live out their lives as the good Lord intended."—Bob Barker, game show host & animal activist

"An appealing animal-rescue book."—Booklist

"Beautiful oil paintings with the softness of pastels - all double-page spreads on generously sized pages - capture important moments in the story....Art and text create a moving tale."—Kirkus Reviews

"Laidlaw chronicles the trip, combining key facts with absorbing storytelling. His forthright narrative is complemented by Deines's luminous oil paintings, which expertly use color and light to track the emotional trajectory of the elephants from discomfort and misery to anxiety and fear and then, finally, to delight and contentment...A supplementary appendix includes background information and photographs of the actual trip. VERDICT A great addition for lessons on wildlife and the ethics of zoos."—School Library Journal

"Seeing Toka, Iringa, and Thika finally free to explore their new home - 80 acres of glowing grasslands - will likely bring relief to sensitive readers. Photographs and additional rescue details round out a sensitive account of animal activism and rehabilitation."—Publishers Weekly

"The illustrations mirror the text in the positive, honest way they depict the central characters....Elephant Journey is an important book...Highly Recommended."—CM Magazine

"The art of Brian Deines shows the similarities between the Californian highlands and the savannahs of Africa, in contrast to the snowy concrete world of the Toronto Zoo, which adds much to the character and enjoyment of this book."—Resource Links

"Complemented with excellent illustrations by Brian Deines and photographs, Elephant Journey is an important book, with an important message, that parents, teachers and other educators would be wise to share with their children."—Metroland Media

"[A] thought-provoking read for kids. Told in easy-to-understand language, it's the story of a complicated effort to retire three elephants from the Toronto Zoo to an open-air animal sanctuary in California."—Victoria Times Colonist

"The story [frames] the difficulties of wild animals in captivity and our changing understanding of zoos and their purposes....Laidlaw's words and Deines' illustrations work perfectly together to bring this tale to life."—49th Shelf

"This uplifting tale has a hopeful ending and is a great introduction to elephants and animal activism for younger kids."—Toronto Public Library

"Put this one on display to attract a wider audience and recommend to kids and adults who like elephants and want to learn about their plight in captivity."—Youth Services Book Review

"This serves as a gentle introduction to animal rights suitable for third grade and up. Pair with other picture books about animals in captivity whose situations were improved..."—Youth Services Book Review

"Brian Deines' fabulous oil paintings...accurately portray for interested readers the joy and bravery of these magnificent pachyderms...Back matter includes clear and appealing photographs, captioned with accurate and much appreciated further information."—Sal's Fiction Addiction

"A fantastic non-fiction book that uses the power of narrative (and the award-winning Deines' gorgeous illustrations) to bring complex issues of animal protection to life...It's a harrowing story with a most hopeful ending, and will make a definite impression on readers of all ages."—Pickle Me This

"This 40-page book does a beautiful job of telling a powerful story that demonstrates why sanctuaries, animal activists, and nonprofits are so important: because they help real animals who have endured so much, like Toka, Thika, and Iringa, and are making great strides towards creating a world free from harm, free of captivity. Recommended."—Vegbooks

"This book will appeal to young readers ages eight to 10 who love animal stories."—The Calgary Herald

"Laidlaw, an animal protection activist, tells the story in this fascinating picture book....Illustrator Brian Deines based his lovely oil paintings on photographs of the elephants' journey and new life in California."—The Booklist Reader

"Elephant Journey is a great book, and I see a lot of value in it."—Alohamora Open a Book


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