Nelly the Elephant liked nothing better than hearing the stories from her favorite book. She kept it with her in a small backpack strapped to her back at all times in case she found someone who had time to read to her.
In Nelly’s elephant herd, many aunts and cousins took care of all the elephants who were too young to go to school. So Nelly had many relatives who could read to her.
Strangely, most of them usually found a good reason not to. Often they didn’t have time to read to Nelly and she was put off until later.
After a while, Nelly grew fed up. “How nice it would be to be able to read for oneself,” she thought.
Every morning, a group of young elephants set off for the school, which was located in the nearby savannah. Among them were Nelly’s siblings and cousins.
She would have loved to go with them, but each time she tried to sneak in with the group, one of the older elephants told on her.
“What are you doing here!” they would say. “Go back home! You’re not allowed! You’re not a school kid yet!”
This made Nelly really angry. All she wanted to do was learn how to read.
“The big elephants think they’re so great,” she thought. “Just because they have big satchels with thick books and can already read, write and do arithmetic. Pfff!”
She finally found someone who was willing to read to her, and quickly took out her favorite book. Many stories she already knew.
Nevertheless, she always enjoyed them and listened very attentively. She even could tell when the reader reached the end of the page and would turn the page for them with her trunk.
Nelly could also tell whether someone liked to read or not. And she could tell her cousin wasn’t in the mood today. She was leaving out words, and making others up. Nelly interrupted.
“That’s not how it goes!” she said with a reproachful look.
“How do you know? You can’t read what it says,” her cousin replied.
“This story has been read to me so many times that I’ve memorized it,” she said. But of course, she could not prove it.
“Oh, Nelly, I can’t wait for you to be able to read your own books!” said Nelly’s cousin. “Just be glad that I took the time at all.” She shut the book and went back to work.
“How can I teach myself to read?” wondered Nelly.
She went to her grandmother to get some advice. Grandma was very old and could no longer see well enough to read to her little granddaughter.
Despite the glasses she wore, the letters swam on the page. Well, do letters swim? Of course not. But that’s what adults say when someone’s eyesight was failing.
Grandma was so good at comforting Nelly. She put her old trunk around Nelly’s shoulders and asked, “Have I ever told you the story of the clever little monkey?”
“Not yet,” said Nelly.
“Well, I think it will help,” said Grandma. They made themselves comfortable under a big, shady tree.
“There once was a little monkey who thought he was smarter than everyone else around him,” began Grandma. “He didn’t think he needed to go to school to learn to read. Instead, he thought he would simply collect all the letters and it would become clear. He was sure it couldn’t be that hard.”
Nelly listened to every word.
“So one day, the monkey ran to the schoolyard, hid in a big tree and waited until the bell rang for recess when the teachers and students left their bags, notebooks and books unattended,” said Grandma.
“What did he do next?” Nelly asked.
“The monkey quickly climbed through the window into the classroom, jumped onto the desks and cut the letters out of the notebooks and books with a pair of scissors. He took as many as he could carry,” explained Grandma.
Nelly thought of the monkey carrying a tower of letters and laughed.
“He ran back to the tree and hung the letters on the branches,” said Grandma. “Then, he would swing from branch to branch trying to make words out of the letters.”
“Did it work?” asked Nelly.
“It didn’t,” Grandma replied. “He didn’t know why because he was sure that this was what the students had done. So he resolved to sleep on it and come back fresh the next day.
“The next morning, the monkey resumed his position in the tree, watching the students unpack their books and begin to read. But instead of words, out came gibberish!”
“What?” said Nelly.
“As you can imagine, everyone was very confused,” Grandma continued. “Because the monkey had taken the letters, suddenly none of the words made sense.
“One student started crying. Another got angry and yelled, ‘Who did this? Who cut the holes in my notebook? I’ll get him!’”
“Was the monkey in trouble?” asked Nelly.
“Well, when he heard how upset everyone was, he got scared. He had only wanted to learn how to read. So he began to untie all the letters from the branches and they slowly fluttered to the ground in the schoolyard.
“One student saw the shower of letters from the window and said, ‘Look! It’s raining letters from the tree!’ So everyone ran outside and started collecting them.
“Someone shouted, ‘Hey, there’s my ‘A’!’ and stuck it in his notebook. Another shouted, “I found my ‘O’. Has anyone seen my ‘U’?’
“By the time all the letters were back in the right place, the little monkey had heard the sound that each letter makes. He could even put some in the right place in a word. But he still couldn’t read.
“‘It’s probably best if I let them teach me the right way at school,’ the monkey thought, and he ran home to play.
“You see, Nelly? You just have to be patient a little while longer,” said Grandma. “You will learn to read soon enough. And when the others don’t have time to read to you, you can always make up your own stories and tell them to anyone who wants to listen.”
Nelly looked up at Grandma, who gave her an encouraging wink. She felt much better.