It's that time of week again! This week's bedtime story was originally written for my ABC Animals series of children's books, but unfortunately, it never saw the light of day. I decided it felt wrong to keep this character and her story languishing on my laptop, so here it is!
Eleanor The Envious Elephant
Eleanor Elephant couldn’t help envying her classmates. She often found herself wishing she was as pretty as Kirstie Koala, or as confident as Harry Hippo. She even wished she was as quick to speak her mind as Alana the Angry Alligator.
To make matters worse, Eleanor was in her final year at Jungle Junior School and she just knew that when she started at Jungle Senior, she’d find even more creatures to envy.
Eleanor was a bright pupil. Her teacher, Mr Leopard, often praised her for her hard work and good manners. She was helpful, kind and her classmates liked her a lot.
But Eleanor wasn’t content. When she caught sight of her reflection, she’d sigh. Her ears were too big. Her skin was too bumpy. Eleanor envied other animals, who seemed to look just right, whilst she felt clumsy and awkward.
She tried not to show it, but deep inside, Eleanor was a rather unhappy elephant...
One afternoon, as school was finishing, Sally Swallow, the school secretary popped her head around the classroom door. “I’ve got a request from Archie Aardvark,” she said. “Miss Giraffe usually helps run the art club after school, but she can’t today. Would one of our older students like to help out instead?”
The children began rolling their eyes. “As if I haven’t spent enough time at school,” Alana Alligator snapped. “Count me out!”
One by one, they made their excuses, until there was only Eleanor left. She shifted in her seat and took a deep breath. “Okay. I’ll help.”
Mr Leopard smiled. “That’s really kind of you, Eleanor. Archie Aardvark will be very grateful. I’ll make sure Mrs Swallow lets your mum know you’ll be late home.”
Eleanor watched as her classmates began grabbing their coats and bags. “Thanks,” Kirstie Koala said. “I’d have offered, but I’ve promised to help mum get ready for my sister’s birthday party.”
Eleanor nodded. “It’s fine,” she said. But she didn’t feel fine.
Trudging down the corridor, Eleanor felt uneasy. What if the art club members didn’t like her? What if they laughed at her big ears, or bumpy trunk? She gazed at Lindsey Leopard and Jennifer Jaguar as they made their way past. They were so pretty and graceful! Eleanor caught sight of her own reflection in the glass as she reached the door to the Art Club. She was so... Different.
With a sigh, Eleanor pushed open the door. Inside the classroom were two round tables, with eager animals sitting at them. The room was filled with the sound of excited voices.
Archie Aardvark grinned. “Welcome to Art Club, Eleanor. Thank you so much for helping.”
Eleanor managed a smile. “You’re welcome,” she replied. “What would you like me to do?”
Archie glanced over his shoulder at the two tables. “The older animals are using mirrors to paint self-portraits,” he told her. “The younger ones are making cards for their friends and families. Our job is to keep an eye on everyone and help if they get stuck. Okay?”
Eleanor nodded. Archie smiled and joined the youngsters, who were chattering as they glued sequins onto brightly coloured pieces of card. Eleanor trudged to the other table.
“Do you want to paint a self-portrait?” Stephanie Salamander asked. Eleanor shrunk back. She hated looking at herself in the mirror. She was always finding things she didn’t like and that only made her envy everyone else more. She shook her head.
“No thanks,” she replied.
Stephanie Salamander picked up a round mirror and stared into it. She shrieked with laughter. “Look how slimy my skin looks, close up!”
Gerald Giraffe stared at himself in a long, rectangular mirror. “My legs are so thin,” he chuckled. “And look how long my neck is!”
Eleanor frowned. They were laughing at themselves! She glanced into one of the mirrors. All she saw was rough skin, tiny eyes, enormous ears... She sighed. There didn’t seem much to laugh about. Yet the children were giggling so much that Tamara Tree Frog leaped away from the card she was making and came hopping across the room to join in.
“I have big, bulgy eyes!” She cried as she caught sight of herself in the mirror.
Rhianna Rhinoceros laughed. “You should join in, Eleanor. It’s fun.” She held up a mirror and peered into it. “Look at my wrinkles. I look like I’m a hundred years old!”
Eleanor was confused. “But you’re supposed to have wrinkles,” she said. “You’re a rhinoceros.” She turned to Tamara. “Those bulgy eyes are just right for you. There’s nothing wrong with any of you.”
“We know,” Tamara replied. “But don’t you ever look at yourself and notice funny little things like these?”
Eleanor sighed. “All the time,” she said. “I wish I could change my big ears and silly nose.”
“But then you wouldn’t be you,” Tamara gasped. “I sometimes wish I was as big as you are...”
Eleanor’s eyes widened. “You want to be like me?” She interrupted. She’d spent so long envying others that she’d never even imagined that anyone might admire her.
Tamara nodded. “Yes,” she said. “But then I think of how silly I’d look. Whoever heard of a frog the size of an elephant?!” She paused. “And if you had a different nose, or smaller ears, don’t you think you’d look silly, too?”
Eleanor smiled in spite of herself. “I suppose so.”
Rhianna held out a mirror. “Come on Eleanor,” she said. “You’re a work of art, just like we are. Why don’t you join in?”
Eleanor grinned. “Okay!”
Tamara hopped back to finish the card she’d been making as Eleanor took a seat at the table. The rest of the time passed in a haze of laughter, as the animals painted their pictures and hung them up to dry. Before long, it was time to tidy up and go home.
Archie Aardvark thanked her for her help, before Eleanor went to fetch her coat and bag. Then, just as she was leaving, she heard a voice.
Eleanor spun round to see Tamara Tree-Frog hopping towards her, waving something in her hand. Archie Aardvark and the rest of the animals from the Art Club were watching and smiling.
“We wanted you to have this,” Tamara said. She handed Eleanor a pink envelope with her name written on it. “Archie said we could make a card for anyone we wanted, so we made this for you.” She smiled. “It’s to say thanks and... Well, you can read it.”
“Thank you,” Eleanor replied.
She opened the envelope to reveal a pink card with a blue elephant on the front, made from sequins and glitter. Eleanor smiled. She opened the card and read the words:
Thank you for helping us today. We think you’re perfect, just the way you are!
Love from everyone at Art Club xxx”
A lump formed in Eleanor’s throat. She found herself grinning as she stood, surrounded by all the other animals. She felt good. She felt perfect.
“Thank you so much,” she beamed. As the animals smiled back at her, Eleanor knew that she didn’t have to spend her time envying anyone else. She was fine as she was!
Soon, everyone began saying their goodbyes and heading to their separate jungle homes. Eleanor watched them leave, with a smile on her face. As the last animal disappeared from view, Eleanor caught sight of her reflection in the long, rectangular mirror and smiled.
Her ears were big. Her skin was bumpy. Her nose was long.
And she wouldn’t have it any other way.