Tusky's Big Decision
by Kenneth R. Greenberg, Ph.D.
illustrated by Allison King

"As Tusky was being carried away he knew he had made the biggest mistake of his life."

Tusky is a young elephant who has it all: loving parents, younger sister, Ellie, safe, happy home, pets, and a best friend, Packy, with whom he has plans to go the carnival. They want to get up early and watch the big tent go up, but Tusky has broken his alarm clock. When he borrows Ellie's alarm clock without asking her, chaos erupts. He breaks her doll, she takes his beach ball, and his mother intervenes, taking Ellie's side. Feeling unloved, Tusky makes his Big Decision to run away from home.

Acting impulsively, he forgets important things like food and money. He encounters friends along his path who strongly advise against his plan to run away. A big elephant named Spike lures him into the clutches of a gang of scruffy rogue elephants hanging out in a forbidden region called Lawlessville. They tie Tusky up and hide him in the jungle, planning to ask for ransom from his parents. At this point, Tusky's friends intervene, using their various skills to rescue him. Hooty, the owl, spots Tusky from above, distracting the gang until Wendy and Lance, a lion couple, bring scissors to cut Tusky loose. The law arrives and ropes up the bad guys. Tusky is now free to enjoy the carnival with Packy. But then, he must face the consequences at home.

Written by a practicing psychologist, Kenneth R. Greenberg, Tusky's Big Decision is geared for children 6-8 years old, who will enjoy having it read to them (the older ones in that group will be able to read much of it themselves). Adventures of "animals as people" are always popular with children—think Peter Cottontail or Yertel the Turtle. Tusky's adventures fit nicely in this genre. Though told in language appropriate to younger children, the book never "talks down" to them. Tusky's poorly planned journey is symbolic: Venturing beyond the boundaries of one's known world always offers excitement, danger, regret, and a new appreciation of home.

There's no doubt that Greenberg, an educator as well as clinician, has done research regarding appropriate vocabulary, concepts, mix of text to pictures, etc., in creating Tusky's tale. This large, colorful book is seventy-four pages, with chapters evenly spaced, so it can be read in seven episodes of about half an hour each. The vibrant color illustrations by freelance artist Allison King, about one per every two pages, are highly detailed and charming.

An especially useful feature is the question segment at the end of each chapter, making for teachable moments. Some are specifically concerned with the story, such as, "If you think Tusky should be punished, what do you think a fair punishment would be?" Others are simply meant to evoke general creative thinking, like, "Why do you think a family is important to have?" It's easy for me to picture reading and discussing this book with my grandchildren. The questions emphasize certain key pieces of advice that Tusky is given by his friends, such as, "It takes a wise person to admit that he or she has made a mistake," and "The truth may cause you to get punished, but telling a lie will only get you in more trouble."

Like all effective children's stories, Tusky's rough adventures end with a sense of relief. He will go to sleep feeling better about his life and grateful to be home, making this a perfect bedtime read.

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