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The Magician's Elephant Hardcover – September 8, 2009
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Amazon Best of the Month, September 2009: Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo--author of The Tale of Despereaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane-- has crafted another exquisite novel for young readers. The Magician's Elephant tells the tale of Peter Augustus Duchene, a ten-year-old orphan who receives an unbelievable piece of information from the local fortuneteller. Peter learns that his fate is tied to an elephant that has inexplicably fallen from the sky when a magician's trick goes terribly wrong. Why did it happen? And, how can an elephant possibly change the course of Peter's life? This darkly atmospheric, yet hopeful tale, demonstrates that when the answers to life’s big questions are opaque or unforthcoming, all is not lost. DiCamillo's rhythmic writing, combined with Yoko Tanaka's mysterious black-and-white illustrations, enchants and calls out to our sincerest wishes and dreams (recommended for readers ages 8-13). --Lauren Nemroff
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 4–6—On a perfectly ordinary day, Peter Augustus Duchene goes to the market square of the city of Baltese. Instead of buying the fish and bread that his guardian, Vilna Lutz, has asked him to procure, he uses the coin to pay a fortune-teller to get information about his sister, whom he believes to be dead. He is told that she is alive, and that an elephant will lead him to her. That very night at a performance in the town's opera house, a magician conjures up an elephant (by mistake) that crashes through the roof and cripples the society dame she happens to land on. The lives of the boy, his guardian, and the local policeman, along with the magician and his unfortunate victim, as well as a beggar, his dog, a sculptor, and a nun all intertwine in a series of events triggered by the appearance of the elephant. Miraculous events resolve not only the mystery of the whereabouts of Peter's sister, but also the deeper needs of all of the individuals involved. DiCamillo's carefully crafted prose creates an evocative aura of timelessness for a story that is, in fact, timeless. Tanaka's acrylic artwork is meticulous in detail and aptly matches the tone of the narrative. This is a book that demands to be read aloud.—Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO
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Top Customer Reviews
How can I say that this book is a story about an orphan and a Magician's Elephant, when it's about the gift of being kind and the gift of doing the Right Thing. The Magician's Elephant is magical whether you're six or 106. It's a great read-aloud book, too.
Oh, yes. Sister and I agree: The Magician's Elephant happened among friends one snowy night. And if you don't believe me, maybe some day, you'll be lucky enough to run into said Elephant. Her memory is very long indeed...
I was also a fan of the Disney movie Dumbo as a child and slept with a stuffed Dumbo that my parents had bought from Disneyland before I was even born.
Needless to say I love elephants. Earlier this year, I came across a used copy of The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. It's a children's book, but I bought it as I was intrigued by the title and the storyline... And, of course, I couldn't pass up a story about an elephant! So in an effort to channel my inner child, I read The Magician's Elephant.
After I finished reading The Magician's Elephant, I was kind of feeling so-so about it. I actually have mixed feelings about this novel. For the most part The Magician's Elephant is going to be a forgettable read for me... It's a quick read, with some finer points to it that make it a sweet read. But overall, I wouldn't go recommending this novel to others. My favorite lines from The Magician's Elephant are the the questions "What if? Why not? Could it be?" that are sprinkled throughout this novel. I took the questions to mean that a person should be open to the possibility that some sort of miracle or something magical might happen if only we were open to it happening in the first place.
Taking place at the turn of the century, a young orphan boy named Peter, desperately searching to better his lot in life, wishes to find his long lost sister, who he believes is still alive out there, somewhere (despite his cratchety caregiver saying otherwise). He visits a fortune teller, who tells him "the elephant will lead you there". Not long after, an elephant crashes through the roof of an opera house out of thin air, thanks to a magician's magic trick gone wrong. From there, the elephant catches the attention and imagination of the entire city, and we bounce back and forth between various points of view, including Peter, the elephant herself, the magician, the noblewoman who was crippled in the accident, a beggar and his dog, a policeman, and many others; all of whom are directly or indirectly affected by the elephant, and how this one magic trick changes their lives forever.
Simply put, the author has created a fairy tale. An actual, technical explanation for how the elephant appeared is never explained (despite many of the characters trying) and one isn't needed. Her presence simply serves as a catalyst that sets the characters in motion. Nearly all the main players lead fairly unhappy and/or dull lives, and whether they're aware of it or not, wish for something better to happen, or just some simple excitement to shake things up. Of course, the appearance of the elephant is more than anyone bargained for, but through the course of the story. one thing leads to another, and like a domino effect, the characters' lives become more intertwined, until finally, one final magical event brings them all together. (Won't spoil anymore.)
Some characters get more backstory than others (with Peter being the main player), but all of them are nice to get to know, and none of them feel like just plot devices. It makes me wish that I lived in this town with these quirky, but loveable people. And like all good fairy tales, this one comes with a nice lesson in not losing hope, and that even in the darkest of times, or saddest of circumstances, all isn't lost, and that with a little ingenuity, you can turn your world around and change things for the better.
The book is fairly short (you can read it in an afternoon), and while normally I'd want the story to be longer, here, I think the length is just about right. It says what needs to be said with just enough description, and moves at a good pace without dragging anything out for too long. It's a modern day book that feels like a classic fairy tale from the olden days. I recommend it.