Behind the Scenes: “Why Have Faith in a Story” by Laurel Neme

We all need a reason to work through the hard parts. Laurel Neme found her reason in those who let her into their story, into what would become The Elephant’s New Shoe. 

Laurel is doing a GIVEAWAY of a copy of the book as soon as it’s released October 6. To enter, just leave a comment on the blog. Winner will be announced 9/12, continental US addresses only, please.

And congratulations to last week’s winner of Rosie the Dragon and Charlie Say Goodnight by Lauren Kerstein….Jilanne Hoffman! 

Laurel at home IMG_6556“Why have faith in a story”

by Laurel Neme

When I first met Nick Marx in 2011, I knew his work rescuing wild animals was special. Nick works for Wildlife Alliance, a non-profit organization based in Cambodia that aims to improve forest management and combat the illegal wildlife trade. The more I talked with him and learned, the more Nick’s quiet “can do” attitude inspired me—and the seed for this book was planted in my mind.

Both Nick and Wildlife Alliance take a holistic approach to solving problems. For example, to help animals Wildlife Alliance focuses on preserving their forest habitat. Their actions have resulted in keeping more than 2 million acres of forest habitats intact. They’ve also reduced elephant poaching by more than 95 percent, tiger poaching by 50 percent and forest fires by 80 percent.

Nick and Chhouk as babyOver the years, Nick’s own work has focused on the physical rescue of a wide assortment of animals and their subsequent rehabilitation, something he does in two roles:  as manager of the country’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team and as director of Wildlife Alliance’s Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. The center is located on 5,600 acres of forest about an hour from Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh. Over the years, Nick and his team have rescued tens of thousands of animals—elephants, tigers, sun bears, pileated gibbons, Siamese crocodiles, birds, turtles and more. My book focuses on one of those animals, Chhouk, a baby elephant whose leg was caught in a poacher’s snare.

Chhouk with bandaged footTHE ELEPHANT’S NEW SHOE is a story about Chhouk’s rescue and how, with help from the Cambodian Forestry Administration, the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics, and an elephant named Lucky, Nick and his team nursed the little pachyderm back to health, and made him an artificial foot.

As much as they can, Nick and his staff release the animals back into the wild. Unfortunately, sometimes that is simply not possible. In those cases, Nick and his staff at the Center will care for the animals for the rest of their lives. Currently, there are about 1,200 animals living at the rescue center—and Chhouk is one of them. Chhouk cannot live in the wild because of his injured foot and need for a new prosthetic every six months.

Chhouk and Nick next to Chhouks pool not long after Chhouk received his prosthetic footTo me, Chhouk’s story is about innovation and persistence—two qualities that are front and center in both Nick and the elephant himself. Nick often talks about Chhouk’s fighting spirit. The little elephant who could. He gives the elephant full credit for his own survival and ability to adapt.

While that is undoubtedly true, Nick was also key. In particular, Nick’s perseverance, creative thinking, and unwillingness to give up on helping Chhouk—despite a storm of NOs—were vital. It is why Chhouk—and so many other animals in his care—can live well. It is why Chhouk can amble through the forest with his elephant friend, Lucky (also saved by Nick). It is why such simple pleasures feel normal and right.900

It is why I wrote this story. It is also why I am so thrilled with how Scholastic made sure royalties from this book would also go to Nick—and by extension Chhouk.

It is why a message from a mom—who tweeted that her book club edition of THE ELEPHANT’S NEW SHOE “arrived just in time to give us & kiddos all the feels” just before her husband was fitted for a new prosthesis—means the world to me.

It is why I worked and reworked it—like measuring and molding Chhouk’s artificial foot. It is why I had faith in it, like Nick had faith in Chhouk. And why I hope you’ll give it a chance and let me know what you think.

Don’t forget to leave a comment below to be entered in the GIVEAWAY! (Continental US addresses only, please)

Juvenile male Chhouk and female Lucky go for their daily walk in the forest. Both elephants were found as infants having lost their mothers-1

BIO:  Laurel Neme has always loved animals. As a girl, she wanted to be a large animal veterinarian like James Herriot. Later, she planned to be a scientist, like Jane Goodall. Eventually, she decided to help animals in her own way—by telling their stories. She’s the author of three books so far: ANIMAL INVESTIGATORS: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species, ORANGUTAN HOUDINI, and her latest, THE ELEPHANT’S NEW SHOE, published by Scholastic in October 2020. She also writes regularly for National Geographic and You can connect with her at

27 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: “Why Have Faith in a Story” by Laurel Neme

  1. A great book with lots of things to teach the readers about animal rescue and forest conservation. The illustrations look adorable. Thanks Beth for sharing this and thanks Laurel for hanging in there to write an adorable book kids won’t soon forget. I look forward to reading the story to my grandchildren!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a beautiful story of resilience, and its timing is perfect, as we humans are all learning a lesson about resilience during a pandemic. Chhouk’s experience shows us the powers of perseverance, innovation and helping one another through tough times.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This book will be a perfect addition to our classroom as well as our school library! We are a STEAM school and love to find books that combine innovation, determination, and heart! What an amazing story.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an amazing book about “Innovation and persistence.” The words you use to describe Chhouk’s story anchor its message in purpose and meaning. Thank you for bringing this story to others.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such an encouraging and uplifting story in itself, but the layers are amazing: The actual rescue center and leader, the elephant’s adaptability, the collaboration of other specialists, the author’s persistence. The idea that this particular book reached that particular family at that particular time in their lives is like a miracle. What a great way to keep our spirits up! Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What an amazing story. My students love the story Beauty and the Beak about the bald eagle that gets a 3D-printed prosthetic beak. They also enjoy the book Karl’s New Beak about the toucan that gets a prosthetic beak. I can’t wait to share this story with them. I already know they will LOVE it. Thanks for the chance.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a beautiful story about your story, Laurel! Having written a MG book with a similar theme and the same book birthday as yours (and including an elephant with a prosthetic forefoot, Mosha), I love, love, love hearing about Chhouk and the work that Nick Marx and his team are doing. I can’t wait to add The Elephant’s New Shoe to my library!

    Liked by 1 person

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