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Publication Date: Friday, October 24, 2003

A legend leaves the family A legend leaves the family (October 24, 2003)

An old manuscript found in a family bureau is reborn as a children's book by a Mountain View writer

By Julie O'Shea

The story of the Imperial Elephant of China was found in a bottom bureau drawer nearly half a century after it was first told to the Reynolds children.

"I thought it was a message," said Diana Reynolds Roome, thinking back to the day five years ago when her older sister found a handwritten copy of their father's bedtime story while cleaning out their mother's countryside home in south England.

"I was just beside myself," said Roome, the Voice's health and fitness writer. "We used to beg him to tell the story."

Dudley Reynolds, who spent time in China with the Shanghai Defense Force in the Welsh Regiment, died of cancer 20 years ago. Roome said she was about 7 when her father first told her about the adventures of the unhappy royal elephant who couldn't sleep after the death of his beloved emperor.

"I will never know if he simply invented it," said Roome, adding that she was certain those recovered notebook pages in her father's distinct scrawl had been meant for her.

"He knew how much I loved it," she said. "I don't want the story to go to grave with me."

So she began the lengthy job of rewriting one of her most cherished tales.

"I feel like it's a sort of gift I can give my father," Roome said. "I felt it was a way of handing down."

Earlier this month, "The Elephant's Pillow" was published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. The 32-page picture book, colorfully illustrated by Jude Daly, is Roome's first stab at children's fiction.

For the most part, the story of young Sing Lo -- who befriends the melancholy Imperial Elephant -- follows the original plot closely, although Roome acknowledges she updated her version just a bit.

"My father's language was wonderful," she said. "He was a wonderful writer, but very Victorian."

Roome knew at a young age that she wanted to be a writer. At age 7, she was already writing, illustrating and binding her own books about fairies and orphan children who run away to find adventures. Her earlier collection includes a book of poems about the flowers and trees she'd found so fascinating in her parents' large garden.

After majoring in English and music at York University, Roome went on to Oxford University for her postgraduate teacher training. She taught in England and Nepal before a beginning a career as a magazine writer and editor.

Roome always thought if she moved away from England, she might travel east toward India. But it was love that convinced her to settle the Silicon Valley, where she'd been visiting her sister during a seven-week sabbatical from a magazine job.

During that period, Roome met and married husband Charles; that was almost three decades ago. She raised her two sons in Mountain View. They attended Springer School, where Roome volunteered as a literature docent and was often invited into the classroom to read to students.

Roome has written extensively for many magazines and newspapers across the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, Reader's Digest and Parenting Magazines.

Her next children's book, "Tumpkin's Tunnel," was inspired by the daily struggle Roome had with her son Alex, now, 20, over washing his face as a child. Roome's publisher has recently found an illustrator for the book and, the project is moving forward.

Roome is also at work on a third book, centered around the time she spent teaching in Nepal. The story will tell an old Nepalese legend, she said.

"The Elephant's Pillow" was printed in England last spring, and has been translated into Swedish, Danish and Dutch. Roome said she would love to see the story translated into Chinese and printed in China.

E-mail Julie O'Shea at

Diana Reynolds Roome will read "The Elephant's Pillow" at Books Inc., 301 Castro St., this Sunday, Oct. 26 at 1:30 p.m. The book can be purchased at the store for $16.

On Nov. 5 and 6 from 9:30 a.m. to noon, Roome will be signing copies at Linden Tree, 170 State St. in Los Altos.

On Nov. 15 at 11:15 a.m. Roome will be giving a reading of "The Elephant's Pillow" at the Mountain View Library, 585 Franklin St., as part of the Library Reading Day event.

On Nov. 22 at 3:00 p.m. Roome will be at the on-campus Stanford Bookstore.


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