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Shirley's Story

Is it true that an elephant never forgets? 

This inspiring, true story about Shirley, a former circus elephant may shed light on this question. 


Shirley's Story

Mary Helen Blanchard, an educator with over 30 years teaching and writing experience, teamed up with life-long friend and illustrator, Sue Brunner, to tell this fascinating and factual story about Shirley the Elephant.  As a young mother and teacher, Mary Helen would take her 3 children and classroom students to visit the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, Louisiana.  There they would see lonely Shirley, with her crooked leg and torn ear.  When Shirley was moved to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee in 1999, the event made front page headlines in their hometown...especially when the news of Shirley's reunion with a younger elephant unfolded.  The two elephants seemed to remember one another. After some research it was discovered that the two elephants had been in a circus together over twenty years before their reunion!         

Mary Helen and Sue knew that this story had to be told in a format for children. They teamed up to bring this heart-warming story to children in a picture book format with beautiful watercolor illustrations. Children and animal lovers of all ages will love this true story that calls us to question our perceptions about these magnificent mammals. 

As well as the uplifting story that will entertain and inform children, the book contains a timeline for use by teachers and parents that documents Shirley's remarkable life.  In addition, there is a 'food for thought' page that outlines positions pro and con for keeping elephants in captivity versus keeping them in the wild that will stimulate discussion with young and old readers alike. And last but not least, the book features a coloring page that teachers and parents can copy for their young readers to enjoy.             

Shirley's Story - The Heart Always Remembers! is a must read for anyone who has ever been interested in these peaceable pachyderms and wants to be inspired and learn more about them!  

The Inspiration

This is Shirley, the inspiration of this story. The Elephant Sanctuary has a wonderful write-up on her history. Below is a clip clip from KBPS who documented Shirley and Jenny's unforgettable reunion. 


The Author

Mary Helen Blanchard  -    BA, MA Elementary Education 

Mary Helen is an educator and author with over 30 years teaching and writing experience. She began her career as an elementary teacher, teaching for 22 years. She then retired to begin a new career in professional development for teachers in hands-on learning and literacy. 

              As a young mother and teacher, she would take her 3 children and classroom students to visit The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo and there they would see lonely Shirley, with her crooked leg and torn ear. When Shirley was moved to Hohenwald, Tennessee, the news made front page headlines in their hometown especially when the story of Shirley and Jenny's reunion unfolded!                          

 Coming from a long line of story tellers, Mary Helen knew that Shirley and Jenny's story had to be told in a format for children. It is her fondest wish that Shirley's Story will educate children and adults of the price captive elephants pay for our entertainment. Hopefully a new paradigm will emerge with the next generation of care givers for these magnificent mammals. Mary Helen still resides in Louisiana where she continues to enjoy providing professional development for teachers, writing , and reading to her eight grandchildren. 


The Illustrator

Sue Brunner -  BA Art Education, MA Special Education

Sue is an art teacher in north central Texas and has been teaching for 30 years. As a child she would sit in front of the television on Sunday nights and draw with a Walt Disney show. Cartooning was how she started her artistic endeavors.              

With the encouragement of family and friends she enjoys many art forms that include painting with watercolors or acrylics, drawing, pottery, and calligraphy. Sue and Mary Helen met while attending college at Louisiana Tech University. The art education major and the elementary education major became roommates and fast friends who often dreamed of teaming up one to write, the other to illustrate children's books. This is their first project together, thirty years in the making!