The Secret Elephant is a children’s book by local artist and now author Isabelle Garbani. It tells the story of two young elephant brothers, Tag and Elefant, who scour the city, from their home on Shore Road to Central Park, for the source of the mysterious rumbling that gives the book its title. (There’s a scatological twist ending.) We asked her by email a bit about the book and about herself.
Where are you from? How did you wind up in Bay Ridge?
I’m originally from France and have lived in the US since 1984. I came to New York to go to graduate school, and ended up in Bay Ridge because my boyfriend was going to join me in New York City, and we were looking for a neighborhood that would be ok with both of our commutes. Bay Ridge looked like a pleasant place, and reminded me a bit of Chicago.
Do you like it here?
I love it here. It’s quiet, and has all the shops and restaurants one can possibly need.
What could make Bay Ridge better?
We need places to exhibit in the area. There’s a lot of talent here but very limited opportunities to showcase it. Most exhibits happen outside the neighborhood, which is a shame.
An illustrated children’s book seems a bit different from the art you usually make. What made you want to give it a try?
This is a long story. I started the children’s-book project eight years ago because of toys we had bought for my boyfriend’s nephew…and a recurring joke about farts. I tried to get the book published but did not get any traction, so I put the project on the back-burner. At the time, my art practice was very busy, and I was on a very good track to modest success. That came to a screeching halt last year, when the main material I had been using for years—plastic shopping bags—became a huge problem. Basically, manufacturers of plastic bags have started to introduce a process to make the bags break down (not biodegrade, which is something else altogether). So, during my first museum show, the curator called me to let me know that my work was falling apart!
Years of experimenting and working with this material, and years of thoughtful concepts, went out the window that day. I got depressed, and couldn’t see my way out. To try and keep sane, I started going to the studio anyway, even if I didn’t have anything to do. Eventually I remembered my book project, and decided to rework the illustrations. A friend told me about a very simple self-publishing tool, and voila, The Secret Elephant was born to the public.
Do you plan to do more books?
I plan on a follow-up book called I Want to be Alice, which hopefully will not take me eight years to finish!
Is The Secret Elephant based on a true story?
When my boyfriend’s nephew was born, we found this very cute blue elephant as a gift. We were on our way to see a movie, and while we were waiting for that to start…Dan started playing with the elephant to make me laugh. We had really different schedules at the time so, to connect during our day, we started putting the elephant in “poses” around the house as jokes. The toy was getting a little dirty, so I thought we should keep it (we were getting attached to it!), and I would go and buy another one to ship to the nephew. Now we had two elephants we were playing with! Eventually, I found the toy online and shipped it directly to Dan’s nephew…or we might have a house full of toy elephants by now!
I actually made a website about it, Why You are Not Getting Your Elephant! (It’s kinda old, but has funny moments.)
What kind of response has the book gotten?
The book has had very positive responses from both children and adults. I think if you like Calvin and Hobbes, and are a little crazy like me, and think that stuffed animals are somewhat alive, you’re going to like this book!
The Secret Elephant is available on Amazon. Isabelle Garbani will also be at the Owl’s Head Holiday Art Fair (479 74th Street), Sunday December 18, 1pm-4pm, which will feature works for sale by local artists and writers, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the artists.