Children’s Book Review of The Crocodile’s True Colors

by DerdriuMarriner

In "The Crocodile’s True Colors," author-illustrator Eva Montanari juggles an art class with a ferocious creature and a schoolroom of crocodile-fearing animals.

How can a teacher get students to think beyond stereotypes and understand artistic and psychological perspectives?

Master Elephant faces such a challenge in Africa’s school for young grassland animals.

The intrepid instructor hopes that by the end of class his students will cut through assumption, prejudice and rumor to understand the real appearance and character behind “The Crocodile’s True Colors.”

Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus): In "The Crocodile's True Colors," a crocodile serves as drawing model for animals in a painting class taught by Mr. Elephant.

near Mfuwe Lodge, South Luangwa National Park, eastern Zambia
near Mfuwe Lodge, South Luangwa National Park, eastern Zambia


The Crocodile’s True Colors is an attractively illustrated and compellingly written modern fable which adults and children of all ages will enjoy.

The charming fable regarding The Crocodile's True Colors has a classroom setting. Master Elephant is committed to educating his young grassland animal charges. By the end of the school year, he needs to turn his students into literate artists.

The intents of Master Elephant epitomize those of The Crocodile’s True Colors, written and illustrated by Eva Montanari and published by Watson-Guptill in 2002. Eva Montanari (born 1977) has a worldwide reputation as a children’s book author/illustrator. She is the author of the art-related adventure, detective and mystery tale Chasing Degas (2009). She also shares her experience and expertise by holding illustration/illustrator workshops in and outside Italy’s peninsula and islands from her hometown of Rimini.


The Crocodile’s True Colors indeed begins with a day on which art is the main subject. Master Elephant emphasizes the role of art and psychology in learning and practicing perspective. He prioritizes three learning objectives: getting his students to

  • Feel comfortable with the vocabulary of art;
  • Observe the world through open eyes and with open minds; and
  • Produce art which acknowledges the true colors --  the real appearance and character -- of the subject.

Master Elephant aims to get his students comfortable with abstract, cubist, Dadaist, expressionist and futurist art. To do so, he gives a difficult but effective assignment. He has each of his five students -- gazelle, giraffe, lion, monkey, and rhinoceros -- draw what the entire school fears most: the crocodile which lives in the nearby river.

Each student draws the crocodile in a different way and with different colors. The different results express the different emotions which the crocodile inspires and the different attitudes which the students bring to the assignment. The lesson therefore is one ultimately of perspective whereby a view indicates the reference point of the viewer.

But what kind of lesson in perspective is it if instruction excludes the viewpoint of the observed? The perspective indeed opens up to include that of the crocodile who becomes splattered with paint when the set is tossed. The observed then turns into observer with the crocodile painting how he perceives his observers!


The Crocodile’s True Colors is a winsomely illustrated and written adventure story. Its beautifully illustrated themes regarding students willing to change their minds, a wise teacher, and a would-be villain will appeal to children and the young at heart of all ages.


Herd of African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana): In "The Crocodile's True Colors," an elephant's students learn more than painting concepts as they carry out their assignment to draw a crocodile.

African Savanna biome: Luangwa River, South Luangwa National Park, eastern Zambia
African Savanna biome: Luangwa River, South Luangwa National Park, eastern Zambia



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Image Credits


near Mfuwe Lodge, South Luangwa National Park, eastern Zambia: Hans Hillewaert, CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @

African Savanna biome: Luangwa River, South Luangwa National Park, eastern Zambia: Geoff Gallice, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons @


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Crocodile's True Colors (Children's Best-Sellers) by Eva Montanar

In the grasslands of Africa, a group of young animals think they know all about the crocodile who swims in the river beneath their school.
nature-themed children's books

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 04/04/2024, DerdriuMarriner
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