top of page

The Picture Book Buzz

She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

As promised, here's a sneak peek at June Smalls' book, which releases May 26th.

Knowing how much I love animals and nature; it is probably no surprise that I immediately fell in love with this cover when the book was announced. The power, grace, and emotion of the elephant matriarch is palatable.

June Smalls and Yumi Shimokawara have created a beautiful, touching, and educational picture book that not only looks at the family lives and special characteristics of elephants, but also trumpets girl power!

She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch

Author: June Smalls

Illustrator: Yumi Shimokawara

Publisher: Familius (2020)

Ages: 4-8



Elephants, family, nature, compassion, and girl power.


Inspiring text and striking illustrations follow the empowering journey of an elephant matriarch as she leads her family through the wilds of Africa. With facts about African elephants on every spread and a message that will encourage young girls to be the trailblazers of their generation, She Leads offers an incredible story and an unforgettable tribute to the strength of a true leader.

Open your eyes, princess. One day you will lead.

Opening Lines:

She is the Queen. The matriarch.

She leads her daughters and their daughters.

What I LOVED about this book:

This book is amazing in its ability to appeal to a younger audience - a big picture of an elephant's family and the females who run the herd - told in concise text and beautiful images. While, at the same time, appealing to slightly older (or expository nonfiction loving) readers with more in-depth sidebars about the elephants, their lives, and the dangers they face.

Text © June Smalls, 2020. Image © Yumi Shimokawara, 2020.

It follows the elephant matriarch as she leads her herd of daughters and granddaughters in their continuous search for food and water. Teaching them to care for the young, helping them distinguish friends and threats, and watching over all as they learn, play, and grow. To their credit, June and Yumi don't shy from reality. Discussing the Matriarch's role in caring for orphans that arise due to poachers or natural causes.

Text © June Smalls, 2020. Image © Yumi Shimokawara, 2020.

With subtly muted backgrounds, the gorgeous, almost photo-like illustrations, on the double-page spreads, are endearing and aptly show the changing landscape and fellow creatures (friend and predator) which share the elephants' habitat. The shift to greys and deep blues for the scenes involving a death and the passing of the crown are very solemn and tender. Encouraging empathy (elephants really do cry in sorrow) and offering a strong message of the strength and importance of family and powerful females.

Text © June Smalls, 2020. Image © Yumi Shimokawara, 2020.

Overall, this is a wonderful book on the unique and powerful family structure and lives of the African elephant. One I hope will inspire girls and women to step up and lead, inspire kids and adults to learn more, and encourage everyone to help ensure these magnificent, loving ladies continue to play and roam. Definitely a wonderful book that should be in every library.


- make an origami elephant, or maybe your own herd ( (video tutorial).

[Photo credit: Chrissy Pk]

- try to communicate like an elephant. Using gestures or expressions, anything but speaking (or sign language), see if you can get a partner to understand what you're saying.

- cover your eyes with a blindfold. Have someone place items in front of you. Using your hands, feet, elbows, arms, or nose can you tell what they are?

- using rubber bands, tubes, &/or containers, can you make instruments that make high, medium, and low sounds? What makes the lowest sound? Now, listen to elephant sounds (

If you missed the interview of June Smalls on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Follow Me

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • 1473394675_goodreads
  • Pinterest



bottom of page