The Elephant Keeper

The Elephant Keeper: Caring for Orphaned Elephants in Zambia
Written by Margriet Ruurs
Illustrated by Pedro Covo
Kids Can Press, Series: CitizenKid
978-1-77138-561-9 | Oct 3, 2017
List Price: USD $18.99, CAD $19.99
4-color 8 x 10 48 pages
Grades: 3 To 7 / Ages: 8 to 12

When teenaged Aaron discovers a baby elephant nearly drowning in the swimming pool at the guest lodge where he works, he acts quickly and manages to save the animal just in time. The rescued baby is brought to an elephant orphanage for care, and given the name Zambezi. Though Aaron has been raised to think of elephants as dangerous to humans and their crops, on a visit to the orphanage, he learns that illegal poaching of these animals is threatening them with extinction, and the orphanage is trying to prevent that from happening. And when Aaron is offered a job at the orphanage, his life is suddenly transformed, as he discovers a bond of friendship with Zambezi and his lifelong vocation as an elephant keeper.

Inspired by the real-life Aaron and Zambezi at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery in Zambia, author Margriet Ruurs has created a moving story that powerfully demonstrates the plight of endangered animals everywhere.

Pedro Covo’s stunning illustrations add a level of depth and haunting beauty to the story and the animals. Three nonfiction spreads interspersed throughout the story explore facts about elephants, ivory poaching and elephant orphanages. The back of the book contains ways children can help endangered wildlife. Useful tools include a table of contents and a glossary. This beautifully illustrated nonfiction book spans the curriculum, from life sciences to global awareness to environmental stewardship. It also offers a unique perspective for character education lessons on empathy, caring and responsibility on a larger scale.

A moving and unforgettable true story …
— Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review, August 2017

Ruurs’ narrative builds a strong emotional connection between readers and the subject—this is a tale designed to pull at the heartstrings of readers.
— School Library Journal, September 2017

“… heartfelt, sensitive, and inspiring.”
— Booklist, October 2017

“Ruurs’ book gives compelling insight into the efforts to preserve a unique and appealing species and of the attempts to mitigate the threats from increasing human encounters.”
— CM Magazine, November 2017

* ILA 2018 Teacher’s Choices Reading List


  • 2019 Diamond Willow Awards, Saskatchewan Children’s Choice, Finalist
  • 2019 – Silver Birch Express Award, Ontario Library Association, Nominated
  • 2018 – Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College, Winner
  • 2018 – Teachers’ Choices List, International Literacy Association, Winner
  • 2018 – Best Books for Kids & Teens, Starred Selection, Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Winner
  • 2018 – Skipping Stones Honor List, Skipping Stones Magazine, Winner
  • 2018 – Chocolate Lily Award, Short-listed
  • 2017 – Eureka! Gold Award, California Reading Association, Winner
  • 2017 – OLA Best Bets, Ontario Library Association, Winner

ADOPT an elephant at Lilayi Elephant Orphanage in Zambia