A Utah State University student has teamed up with a local elementary teacher to produce a children’s book about finding divinity in the world around us, even in troubled times.
After USU doctoral student Ethan Watson wrote “A Boy and His Elephant,” his mother, Lisa Watson, knew what it needed to bring it to life.
“When Ethan first showed me the book, he had pretty much already put it in book format,” Watson said. “It totally surprised me. I had no idea he was doing it. So when I read it, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is awesome.’ And I said the thing that would bring this to life is illustrations.”
After talking with her son about the feel he wanted for the book’s art, she put him in touch with fellow sixth-grade teacher Jessica Talbot. Talbot studied art at USU but ultimately graduated with a degree in education. She’d recently drawn illustrations for a bulletin board at Summit, where she and Watson teach.
The book’s message resonated with Talbot.
“The message, I think, is very special and it applies to everybody in different stages of life,” Talbot said. “It was very touching. I wanted to make … the illustrations special.”
Talbot said she hadn’t drawn too often in recent years and was initially nervous to find herself working on a book. But when she showed Watson her illustration for the cover, he said it was exactly what he was envisioning, and the project went onward surprisingly smoothly.
“It was really cool for me to be able to do it and to build that confidence in myself and to be able to see how other people react to the book and the pictures together,” Talbot said.
Ethan Watson, 22, said the idea for the book came to him after a couple of years of his own soul-searching and then a summer wandering national parks when COVID-19 cancellations wiped out much of his calendar.
“I found that I had some more time on my hands,” Watson said. “So I actually spent a lot of time out exploring some of the great Utah sites and Idaho sites, stuff in Island Park and Yellowstone and Bear Lake, Willard Bay, just hiking in the canyon, being out, being on some of the most beautiful golf courses in Utah.”
That spiritual journey is reflected in “A Boy and His Elephant,” which tells the story of an anonymous child who’s sad because he doesn’t have a personal relationship with God when it seems like so many others in his life do. His friend, an elephant, helps him see the divine in the world around him.
The story also reflects some of the angst Watson felt from the news over a turbulent summer of demonstrations over social justice, the pandemic response and other tensions.
“With so much controversy going on and unease and unrest, I wanted there to be positive media,” Watson said. “And so I sat down and I said, ‘Well, how can I create positive media?’ And I had this idea, and it kind of came from my own reflection and a mix of what was going on in the times.”
“A Boy and His Elephant” is 54 pages and fully illustrated. Watson and Talbot published the book with 1,000 copies in the first printing. Paul Parkinson, a local author who drew national attention with his book “Unselfish Kids,” helped publish “A Boy and His Elephant” through his company Weave Media. Three hundred copies were distributed in an initial release of the book coinciding with Christmas, according to Watson.
Although it’s a children’s book and Watson is a Latter-day Saint, he said he wrote the book with broader audiences in mind.
“It is not part of any religion,” Watson said. “It might definitely have a Christian view, but I wanted it to be open to anybody that believes in God and even those who don’t. So I didn’t want it to be associated with one particular sect of Christianity or even any religion.”
“A Boy and His Elephant” is available for order at walkwithanelephant.com.