Peanuts and Prison Bars

Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a safe, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One day Benson said to his mother, “I think I’ll make a picture book, about elephants.”

“Elephants?” his mother said. She was busy trying out a complicated new recipe for walnut and lentil surprise.

Benson nodded. “I like elephants. I think elephants are a lot like wombats,” he said.

“Are they?” his mother said.

Benson said, “They’re both round, and friendly, with hardly any tails.”

“Is this book just going to have pictures, or will there be words too?” she asked.

“Both,” Benson said.

His mother helped him fold some sheets of paper in half and staple them down the middle to make a book. Benson got his coloured pencils and set to work.

On the first page he drew lots and lots of green grass, really tall green grass. He wrote underneath, “Elephants hiding in the long grass.” On the next page he drew a big pile of peanuts next to a jar of peanut butter. Underneath he wrote, “Favourite food of elephants.”

He turned the page over and started drawing big black bars from the top of the page to the bottom. He asked his mother, “How do you spell ‘jail’?”

His mother was stirring the egg whites carefully into the lentils. “Some people spell it ‘j-a-i-l’, and some people spell it ‘g-a-o-l’. Or you could put ‘prison’, and then you don’t have to decide.” She tipped the mixture carefully into a dish. Then she looked up and said, “Why is there a jail in a book about elephants?”

“Because elephants think cages are like prison,” Benson said. He wrote, “Elephants don’t like cages. It’s like being in prison.”

On the next page he drew a deep waterhole, full of blue water. He put, “Elephants are good at swimming underwater because they can breathe through their trunks.”

He was up to the last page in the book, so he drew a saxophone and some drums and a big gong. He wrote, “The Elephant Band” at the bottom. “There,” he said. “Finished!”

His mother put the dish into the oven and closed the oven door. “Can I have a look at your book?” she asked.

“Sure,” said Benson. “It’s really good.”

His mother looked at all the drawings and read every page. “Benson,” she said, “this is a picture book about elephants, right? Where are the elephants?”

Benson said, “Well, on this page, they’re hiding in the grass, and on this page they’re under the water.”

His mother said, “What about the Elephant Band?”

“They all got thirsty playing, so they went to get a drink of water,” Benson said.

His mother said, “Don’t you think if you were reading this book to a little wombat, like Zip or Ada or little Quentin, they would expect to see a picture of an elephant?”

“Maybe,” Benson said. “But I can’t draw elephants.”

“You can’t draw elephants?” his mother said.

“I can’t get the trunks to look right, and their knees are always wrong,” Benson said. “When I try to draw them, they always end up looking more like a dinosaur with camel legs.”

His mother thought about it. She said, “Let me have a try.” She took Benson’s grey pencil and drew something that looked a lot like a wombat, on the front cover of his elephant book.

Benson had a look. “That’s a very good try,” he said. He actually thought it wasn’t even a very good drawing of a wombat, but he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. “It’s not much like an elephant, though, is it?” he said.

His mother said, “It’s a bit elephantish, around the bottom.”

“The legs are too short and it’s got no trunk,” he said. He rubbed out the four stumpy wombat legs and drew longer, wrinkly elephant legs. He frowned. “I got the knees all wrong again,” he said.

His mother drew long socks on the elephant, that came right up over its knees. “Is that better?” she asked.

Benson smiled. “It’s better, but it’s still got no trunk,” he said. He drew a long trunk hanging down to the ground in front of the elephant. It looked like a garden hose. “See? It’s all wrong.”

“What if the elephant has its trunk up in the air?” his mother suggested.

Benson rubbed out the garden hose trunk and drew a wavy, upwards trunk.

“That’s a good trunk,” his mother said. And it was, actually. “Don’t elephants have bigger ears than that?” she asked.

Benson rubbed out the small, wombatty ears that his mother had drawn, and gave the elephant big, flappy ears. It looked a lot more like an elephant now.

His mother said, “I don’t think you’re terrible at drawing elephants, I think you just need more practice.” She opened his book. “Here’s a good place to start,” she said.

Benson set to work again. He drew two elephants hiding in the long grass, with just their top halves showing, so he didn’t have to worry about the knees. He drew elephants in party hats sitting down eating the peanuts with their trunks. He drew a sad elephant behind the bars, with its trunk drooping sadly like a garden hose. Then he drew a big happy elephant driving a bulldozer, breaking the bars down.

On the page with the waterhole, he drew two elephants spraying each other with water, and another invisible elephant under the water with just the tip of its trunk showing.

On the very last page he drew an elephant playing the saxophone, and another elephant hitting the drums with drumsticks held in his trunk, and seventeen elephants dancing.

When he was finished, not one more elephant could fit on the pages. He and his mother sat down and read the book together, from the beginning to the end. They both loved it.

“You must be tired after all that drawing,” his mother said. “How about an elephant snack?”

“An elephant snack?” Benson said.

“Celery sticks with peanut butter, and peanut butter sandwiches,” his mother said.

“Yes, please!” Benson said.

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