CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 21 . . . . February 2, 2018
One morning, as Tilly the elephant takes a morning stroll, she catches a glance of a stranger on the horizon. The visitor has the shape of an elephant, having a tail and trunk like hers, but it is not one she has seen before. At the same time, Tilly is spotted by Tank who, upon seeing a telltale turret and barrel like his own, concludes that she must be an enemy tank approaching for a fight. Through trial and error, persistent Tilly attempts to befriend Tank while he tries to figure out why she will not fight back. Eventually, they both come to realize that they may not be the same creature but that doesn't mean they can't be friends.
With Tilly & Tank, Jay Fleck has created a timeless story of friendship with beautiful retro inspired drawings and a sweet moral. Tilly and Tank look similar, but they are not the same. While for some, this might be a reason to feel frightened or combative because of their dissimilarities, for Tilly (who is wildly optimistic) and Tank (who has trepidation but is open), the only important factor is the other's willingness to be friends. The ending is quite beautiful as Tank's peaceful engine makes a thump-thump, thump-thump sound the same as Tilly's heart. The message is obvious without being overtly didactic. Their differences do not separate them; their sameness connects them. This simple book is quietly profound.
The aesthetic of this book is dated in a charming, nostalgic way. Everything from the shapes of the characters to the colour palette is a nod to an artistic time gone by, but this just adds to the timelessness of the story. Here is a message that was true in the 70s, is true now, and will be true thirty years from now – we must look beyond perceived differences. Despite its aged look, the drawings feel fresh and original. With its interesting style and message of receptivity, there is a lot to discuss with a young audience. I would recommend Tilly & Tank for the home or school library shelf.
Amber Allen works at the University of Guelph and has a passion for children's literature and writing.