10 Lessons for Modern Life from Elmer the Patchwork Elephant
It seems that the modern world is more unstable than ever. With political upheaval and debate ongoing worldwide, it’s important have a positive role model in the public eye. And who’s to say that role model can’t be a multicoloured illustrated elephant? David McKee’s character Elmer first appeared in 1968 in the book of the same name, and since then he has been inspiring children and adults with his infinite wisdom. So, what can we learn from Elmer?
1. Embrace difference
For those who don’t know Elmer, he is a multicoloured elephant who lives happily among a grey herd, and after he tries and fails to hide his true self, he learns that his friends love him for his uniqueness.
David McKee wrote Elmer after witnessing an upsetting racist remark aimed at his daughter. He told The Guardian that the story is important to him because, “we are all different, with so many differences, difference of colour, of accents, but also of size, shape and how we dress. The differences are what make the world so rich. It’s strange because we humans seem to like difference in other things- in dogs and trees and flowers, but we don’t accept it in people. If people aren’t like us, we don’t accept them”. As long as there are people in the world who need to hear that message, books like Elmer will continue to be important.
2. Don’ t be afraid to play
We all know life can be hard, but the elephants surrounding Elmer are a happy bunch. This is because of Elmer’s constant joking around and his happy-go-lucky personality. He is a reminder to look on the brighter side of things and to not be afraid to play.
3. Get to know your neighbours
In today’s world, it has become less common to know your neighbours and talk to people in your community, or on the street. When Elmer passes through the jungle, his distinctiveness means all of the animals in the jungle know him by name, and say hello when he passes by.
4. Make use of the natural resources surrounding you.
When Elmer decides to disguise his patchwork, he roves in the jungle until he finds a bush of elephant-colour berries to paint himself with. An excellent example of foraging for local natural resources!
5.Lead by example
Elmer doesn’t need to tell others what to do, he just lives the way he sees fit and others are inspired by his example. Because Elmer learns to embrace his patchwork, all of the other elephants decide to paint themselves multi-coloured once a year and celebrate a carnival of colour!
6. It’s okay to admit when you’re wrong
Elmer thought that he wanted to be standard-elephant-colour like the other elephants, but when he sees them all standing stock still, grey and silent, he realises he was wrong and lets out a big "BOO" to tell them he’s back! Sometimes acknowledging that you’ve made a mistake is the hardest thing about making one.
7. If something’s not fashionable, that doesn’t mean it’s not fabulous
Elmer was originally published in 1968, but went out of print until being redrawn and reissued by the Andersen Press in 1989. Since then there have been numerous Elmer books, a wide range of merchandise and a TV series, with the latest Elmer book being released as recently as 2016. Although David McKee never lost popularity, (Elmer’s creator was better known throughout the seventies for his Mr. Benn character), Elmer’s resurgence shows that it’s not worth giving up on something just because it’s not popular immediately.
The original 1968 edition of Elmer. Image from itsmariemade.blogspot.com
8. Maintain a compassionate outlook
In Elmer and the Hippos (2003) the other elephants in the herd tell Elmer to get rid of the newcomer hippos who have set up a home on the river, but after speaking to the hippos, Elmer decides this is unfair. Instead he and his cousin Wilbur plan to remove the rocks damming the river, and the hippos and elephants work together to make the river flow. David McKee never lost touch with what made him create Elmer in the first place, and when he noticed growing negativity around the issue of immigration, he created this book to highlight the importance of acceptance.
9. Be yourself
Elmer teaches us that everyone has something unique to bring the table and there's no point trying to disguise your true self. Always be yourself, especially if you are a multicoloured elephant.
10. Spread the message of Elmer
Did you know there are still people among us who don't know about Elmer? How sad for them! You must take it upon yourself to educate them.
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