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The Picture Book Buzz

Muddy Mighty Us - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF + Extra Special Limited Edition Print Giveaway

Have I got a great book for you all in this #PPBF post! If, like me, you loved Ida, Always, This Way, Charlie, and Feathers Together are you in for a treat! If for some reason you haven't read all three books - quick head to the library or bookstore and check these treasures out. Then I'm sure you'll agree that this book is just as touching, uplifting, and stunningly illustrated as their other three books. In this beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated story, actually based on real-life elephants, Caron Levis and Charles Santoso explore an elephant family, a special needs baby, sibling relationships, and their variable Kenyon habitat.

Internal spread - two young elephants, trunks raised. splashing in a grassy, muddy stream

Muddy Mighty Us

Author: Caron Levis

Illustrator: Charles Santoso

Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers (2023)

Ages: 4-8



Family, siblings, determination, and nature.


From author Caron Levis and New York Times bestselling illustrator Charles Santoso—the award-winning team behind Feathers Together; Ida, Always; and This Way, Charlie—comes Mighty Muddy Us, a moving, full-color picture book story of sibling love, inspired by a real-life elephant family.

The moment he is born, Ely delights in the welcoming trumpets of his adoring big sister, Enid. She is so excited to play—but Ely’s legs are injured and it’s hard for him to move. To help keep Ely safe, Enid sticks close to her determined brother as they grow together through the seasons, trunk-twirling, mud-wallowing, and making silly sounds!

But as Ely grows more confident, he’s ready for more adventures, and he feels squished by Enid’s worries and rules. Enid is glad that he can run and play, but she’s nervous he could get hurt—or that he won’t need his big sister anymore. When a drought threatens the whole family, Ely shows what he is capable of, and both he and Enid discover that whether they are helping or playing, dusty or muddy, siblings are mighty special.

Opening Lines:

"Tah-tra, tah-tra!"

Enid trumpeted her welcome song -

finally she was a big sister.

The world was just a blur to Baby,

but, wriggling and smiling,

he reached toward his sister's bouncing sounds.

Mama Echo named him Ely.

"Eee-liii," Enid sang. "Tah-tra!"

But when the sun rose,

What I LOVED about this book:

This beautiful, joyous opening, featuring the birth of young Enid's baby brother, Ely, changes quickly with the page turn. Ely, born with "bent and stuck" legs, can't stand up. Something especially important for a young elephant's survival; it must be able to nurse and get to water. Charles Santoso's ability to touchingly capture and convey the elephants' emotions, without anthropomorphizing them, is amazing. And Caron Levis beautifully captures Enid's shifting emotions about her brother's condition in a metaphor relevant to elephants and relatable to small readers - "Enid's welcome song crumpled like dry leaves inside her."

Internal spread - entire herd and excited little sister, welome a new baby elephant.

Text © Caron Levis, 2023. Image © Charles Santoso, 2023.

As Ely struggled to stand again and again, Enid encouraged him with "roll rumbles, blast trumpets and shower" of "mighty sounds." As the book's name suggests, this 'small but mighty' theme permeates throughout the book. When Ely finally stood, Enid appointed herself his protector - keeping him from falling in the water, off cliffs, or befriending grumpy hippos.

But sometimes, the constant attention paid to Ely and the celebration of his every small milestone, made Enid jealous. Something human families have to deal with as well when a new sibling (human or furry) arrives. Caron and Charles have done a spectacular job of remaining true to the elephant's nature, while creating a story that caregivers can use to gently encourage a healthy relationship between siblings.

Internal spread - young elephant getting love and attention form older elephants while big sister clings to Mom's tail.

Text © Caron Levis, 2023. Image © Charles Santoso, 2023.

While lovingly describing the relationship between Enid and Ely, the text also explores the fears that a big sister has for a curious rambunctious brother and her even worse fear of someday not being needed. As well as the confidence which a steady, wise big sister encourages, and the slight chaffing at the oppressiveness of her constant wariness. It revels in their fun, Ely's first word - "Eeny," and the forever bond created between the siblings. As a special treat, the text includes some particularly witty & subtly interwoven puns and some internal rhyme.

Internal Spread - two young elephants after a dust storm clasping trunks over a heart shaped hole with water in it.

Text © Caron Levis, 2023. Image © Charles Santoso, 2023.

When a dust storm separates them, their special, playful call of "Tooo, weee," reunites them and they confirm their steady constant devotion to each other. I adore the action, suspense, and joy in the final few spreads. It is a wonderfully touching story of elephant siblings navigating an initial disability, the progressive change in their relationship, and the entire herd's dealing with an increasingly dusty and arid season in Kenya. The illustrations gorgeously capture their relationship and the ever changing environment they have to endure. It's a not-to-be missed book!


Collage of two styles of folded paper elephants.

- make your own paper elephant family. Here's a super easy one or a little harder version.

- do you have a younger sibling? If you do, what would you do to protect him or her? If you are the youngest, when did an older sibling do too much? Why did it feel like that?

- Draw a picture or write a description of something you like to do with a sibling, cousin, or close relative. What makes it so special to you?

- check out the information, resources, and activities for the book on Caron's website.

Extra Special Limited Edition Print Giveaway

Image of Chrles Santoso and the special elephant print. Theree elephants standing side-by-side.

Awesome news! The amazingly talented Charles Santoso and Caron Lavis are offering two lucky readers a limited edition special print which he made of the three elephants from Mighty Muddy Us! - Echo, Enid, & Ely.

- Simply comment below and/or on the Friday #PPBF post to be entered in the random drawing on October 13th.

- Be sure to say where (if) you shared the post (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Bluesky), and I'll add additional entries for you.

- *Sorry US Residents only.*

If you missed the interview with Caron Levis & Charles Santoso 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 and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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