My children have many, many books. I read them all, but I have a few special favorites. The Ant and the Elephant is one of these. Bill Peet's lovely story speaks of the importance of kindness to all and also of the immense power that is contained in cooperation and goodwill.
The Ant and the Elephant begins with an ant finding himself stranded on a lone branch after scrambling out of a fast-moving stream. He asks a turtle for help, and receives an abrupt refusal to help. "If I went racing about helping everyone who was in trouble I'd have no time to relax," the turtle tells the ant before ambling off to sun himself.
It doesn't take long for the turtle to find himself in peril, and when he asks a bird for help he is similarly rudely dismissed. On and on these rude denials of assistance go, threading up the food chain through bigger and bigger animals. The bird rejects the turtle, as do the giraffe, the lion, and the rhino in turn. Finally, an elephant comes rumbling through the forest. He hears the ant calling for help and without hesitation he goes to his aid. The delighted ant says, "How can I ever thank you enough?" and the elephant replies, "It was no big thing." "But it was a big thing for me," responds the ant, and in that line we reach the central theme of Bill Peet's book. Sometimes the smallest effort can have an enormous positive impact.
Later in the day, the elephant is the one who finds himself in trouble. He falls into a hidden ravine and lands on his back, wedged into a position from which he cannot move. After hours of lying in the deep pit and wondering how he will get out, he hears the ant's tiny voice. The grateful ant heard the elephant's cries for help and came to his aid, accompanied with 95,000 of his friends. The elephant thanks the ant for his offer to help, but doubts his ability to do so. But the thousands of ants come together are able to gradually hoist the elephant out of the ravine. The cooperation of 95,000 of the earth's tiniest animals is enough to lift one of its largest.
"That was tremendous!" the elephant exclaims when he is out of the hole. "I can't believe it!" "It was nothing," the ants demur. "Nothing for you," the elephant replies, echoing the ant's comment earlier that same day. "But a mighty big thing for me." And the ants hop on the elephant's back, hitching a ride through the forest back to their hill. Bill Peet's simple parable reminds us that the biggest and the smallest can work together and demonstrates the ways in which that cooperation can literally move mountains.