"The Elephant, the Zoo and World War Two"

by Ellan Rankin

I love finding inspiration from funny news stories, history and animals. So a few years ago when a news article came out about “The Elephant Angel” it was my dream story. In 2009 Belfast Zoo began a search to find a woman who was in a 1940’s photograph. This woman was in a garden. With a baby elephant.

Turns out this woman was a keeper in the zoo, who would sneak the baby elephant home each evening as it was frightened of the air raids. Unbelievable right?!

I decided this could make a great children’s book. I’d played around with the idea on and off for a few years but this year it finally came together a bit more. I began story boarding and then creating dummy books. With each dummy book, changes to the story were made, the sketches were rough, but piece by piece the story came together a bit more, with better pacing, layouts and imagery. In all, there were 12 different dummy book versions in the space of about 2-3 months. The artwork was then created mostly digitally using photoshop and textures I’d made with inks, paints and rollers were overlaid on top.

Coming from just outside Belfast, this story has been very close to my heart for years. Now the book has developed into a strange mix of non fiction pages about Belfast through the years from 1940-1970’s, as well as the story of the two friends. The book has changed since I first imagined it, and will no doubt change much more in the future. However the story will always be about a small act of kindness in a very difficult time… an elephant and her keeper.

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