This was my first book and the most overwhelming and terrifying story that I have ever read. There is no book that has yet surpassed this one for terror and bravery.
The reasons for this are: on the first page of the book, the baby elephant (Tubby) is allowed (amazingly) INSIDE the house.
On the third page I learned that Ah Mee’s bed is terrifyingly small and this has caused me 45 years of anxiety. They lived in a town by the Rolling River and their house was on the Street of the Golden Lanterns. This is the most enchanting place in the world, wherever it is.
Their house has no kitchen and this caused me more consternation. The whole family, including Tubby made paper lanterns and this seemed quite logical.
Tubby the Elephant decides to make a special lantern for Ah Mee’s birthday. This was fun but the very small bed and the inadequate blanket pictured at the beginning of the book overshadow everything with doubt for now on.
Tubby makes a fabulous lantern and accidently floats away in it, over the town and over Ah Mee, who quickly realises that Tubby Is In Big Trouble. This was true, but the trauma of the blow away lantern is nothing compared to the size of that bed and the insufficient blanket.
Ah Mee pursues Tubby successfully and they float together in the birthday lantern all night. The starry sky is undoubtedly cold and so the terror begins to build once again. The candle in the lantern extinguishes itself at dawn and the lantern drops toward the sea in a distressing kind of way, but the sun is coming up, everyone will be warm and the lack of a proper blanket will no longer matter.
They run into pirates but cunningly escape on another, friendly boat using the birthday lantern. As they float to safety, the little elephant looks over the side of the boat and there is NO GUARD RAIL. This is incredible. The ship floating in the sky using a lantern as ballast is not really that incredible.
But the worst is yet to come.
The whole town celebrates the safe return of the heroes and holds a boat party on the Rolling River but the boat is TOO SMALL for the guests too move. And this illustration caused me immense sadness.
Then, on Tubby’s birthday, Ah Mee makes him a bed; a double bunk with Tubby the Elephant on the bottom bunk and Ah Mee on the top bunk. But Ah Mee has no pillow, the bed is still too small, his purple blanket is still inadequate and Tubby has no blanket at all. They both dream that they fly away on the bed (which is tied to the lantern) into the beautiful starry sky and come back safely every morning. There are no guard rails or handles on the bed.
Terror triumphs completely.
I still have my original copy and cannot part with it.