Marshmallow has reviewed two books by Kate DiCamillo before: Flora and Ulysses and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Today she reviews a third book of hers, The Magician’s Elephant.
Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about family, animals, or magic, then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Peter Augustus Duchene lives in Baltese with his guardian, an elderly soldier named Vilna Lutz. Vilna Lutz is not particularly bad, but he is extremely obsessed with making Peter into a good soldier. Thus, Vilna Lutz is extremely strict. One day, when Vilna Lutz sends Peter to buy fish and bread, Peter meets a fortune teller. Instead of buying the fish and bread he was supposed to, he uses the money to ask the fortune teller a single question. (Since he is honorable, he decides that he will tell Vilna what he has done, which is very honorable.) Peter knows exactly what he will ask. His little sister, Adele, according to Vilna, was stillborn but Peter has his doubts. When he starts to ask the fortune teller his question, the fortune teller tells him that his sister is still alive. Extremely excited, Peter asks how to find her. The fortune teller mysteriously says, “Follow the elephant.” Puzzled over these words, Peter realizes that this means that Vilna or the fortune teller is lying, which shakes his foundations, because Lutz is a soldier, “good and true”.
Not very far away, a magician is performing at the Bliffendorf Opera House. He intends to summon a bouquet of lilies. Instead, this magician performs his greatest trick yet: he summons an elephant that crashes through the ceiling. This elephant lands on the legs of the woman the magician was trying to present the lilies to. She is crippled from that and the magician is arrested. The elephant is placed in a cage and then later bought by a rich noble woman to be displayed at her house.
The elephant is the talk of the town, and Peter hears about it and believes that it will lead him to his sister, Adele. When Peter questions Vilna about his sister’s supposed death, Vilna admits that she didn’t die. Vilna was a good friend of Peter’s father. Adele was not placed in his care because she was just a newborn when she was orphaned. This makes Peter more determined to find her.
Marshmallow’s Review: I think that The Magician’s Elephant is an amazing book. I always enjoy reading Kate DiCamillo’s books; all of her books are touching and elegant. And this one is especially good. I specifically like how DiCamillo goes into the backstories of all the characters and ties them all together at the end.
The Magician’s Elephant is also a great family book. The main message is simple and perhaps not surprising: even during hard times, family should stick together. But the way DiCamillo tells the story makes all the difference. I listened to this book with my family as an audiobook, besides reading the paper version, too. In both versions, I really enjoyed reading this book. All in all, I think it is a necessary addition to the library of anyone who likes reading children’s literature.
Kate DiCamillo also inserts a bit of a magical touch into this book. The summoning of the elephant and the fortuneteller’s ability to see are both interesting additions of inserting magic into an otherwise realistic storyline, and they make up a major part of this book. All together these make The Magician’s Elephant a touching book that is both realistic and magical, somewhere between fairy tales and realistic fiction.
The version of the book I read was illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. Tanaka’s full-page illustrations were black and white and simple, but contributed to the general magical atmosphere of the story.
I will read this book again.
Marshmallow’s Rating: 100%.