Gillian Cross, an English children's author, sets this adventure in 19th- century America. A 15-year-old orphan boy Tad is employed at his aunt's boarding house, where he is severely ill-treated. He sees a way to escape from his misery when Michael Keenan offers him a job of looking after his elephant, Khush. Keenan travels around the USA, selling a cure-all potion which he advertises by performing a trick involving his teenaged daughter Cissie and Khush.
Soon after, Keenan dies in a train crash. Two rogues who knew Tad in his boarding house days, lay a claim to Khush, insisting that Keenan had sold the elephant to them before he died. Both Tad and Cissie are sure that the bill of sale is forged. Cissie feels that her friend Ketty (who lives in Nebraska) will help them. Tad and Cissie set out, with Khush, to find her, travelling down the Ohio river by boat, from Pittsburgh to Cairo and then upriver and across country to the plains west of Omaha. On the way they have some near escapes, unpleasant surprises and an encounter with an unusual band of people living in a remote bend of the river. Along the way, the bossy, short-tempered Cissie and the timid Tad become good friends.
Khush, the elephant, is larger-than-life, endearing and almost human-like in his intelligence. There's a suspenseful race to the finish, when Ketty is at last found.
The book won Britain's Smarties Prize and Whitbread Award in 1992.
Cross has written the very popular Demon Headmaster series. Chartbreak, Tightrope and The Iron Way are some of her other well-known books. All of them are suitable for children aged 9 and over.