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Elephant Company Book Discussion Questions

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

For an unusual viewpoint on World War II, try assigning 'Elephant Company.' After reading, discuss the story and its implications using these discussion questions.

Elephant Company by Vicki Constantine Croke

Animal lovers, history buffs, and biography enthusiasts will enjoy the book Elephant Company by Vicki Constantine Croke. In Elephant Company, Croke chronicles the life of James Howard Williams, best known as ''Elephant Bill'' whose company of elephants helped the British defeat the Japanese in Burma during World War II. From his arrival in Burma and initiation into the world of elephants to his heroic war contributions, Williams loved his life in the jungle and particularly he loved his elephants. Enjoy this book with your middle school or high school students, then discuss it together using these questions.

Note: Throughout the book, the author alternately refers to the protagonist as Billy, Williams, Bill, and Jim. For the sake of clarity, these questions all refer to the protagonist by his last name, Williams.

Pre-Reading Questions

  • How do you feel about animals? What stories have you heard about people communicating with animals? If you could get to know any type of animal extremely well, which animal would you choose and why?
  • What do you want to know about elephants?
  • How do you expect to choose your career? What criteria and advice are important to you?

Questions About the Story

  • Why do elephants appeal to Williams? What is the most surprising or compelling fact you learn about elephants from this book?
  • What is Po Toke's philosophy of elephant training? How does it differ from standard practice at that time? What other applications might Po Toke's ideas have?
  • Why and how did Williams hope to change the treatment of elephants? What obstacles did he face? In what ways did he succeed?
  • Williams said he learned more from his elephants than he could have from humans. What did he learn and how?
  • What do the elephants teach about leadership? How are their lessons relevant to people?
  • What changed for Williams when he met Susan?
  • What criteria did Williams have for his irregular army? What was their purpose? What role did the elephants play in World War II?
  • What personal sacrifices did Williams make for his elephants?

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