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The Magician’s Elephant

Review

The Magician’s Elephant

written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

Peter Augustus Duchene does not wake up each day expecting his life to change. See, he is an orphan in the city of Baltese, his guardian Vilna Lutz is a crazy old codger of a soldier, and his life is anything but extraordinary. The only thing he hopes for is to one day grow up to be a brave and strong soldier like his father long ago. This is why he slaves away in hopeless obedience to his guardian, and this is why he happens to find himself standing in the market with a single florit coin in his hand, in front of a fortuneteller’s tent.

A sign on the door reads: The most profound and difficult questions that could possibly be posed by the human mind or heart will be answered within for the price of one florit.

So Peter spends his boss’s money and asks the questions that his heart has been dying to ask for years: Does his sister still live? And if she lives, then how can he make his way there to where she is? The answer is nothing he ever could have expected. “You must follow the elephant,” the fortuneteller says.

Peter does not understand. He has never seen an elephant and does not know where to find one. Baltese in the winter is no place for an elephant. But he has grown up thinking his sister was born dead, and this is the only clue he has ever had. What if his guardian has not been telling the truth? Such a thought has never come to Peter, yet recent dreams have brought back strange childhood memories that have caused him to doubt his guardian and all he has grown up believing.

Meanwhile, across the wintry rooftops of the city, an old magician readies himself in the opera house for a very good illusion. “Magic is impossible,” says the magician. “It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it is magic.” His intention is to have a bouquet of lilies fall from the ceiling into the arms of a high class woman. This is what he wants. This will be his great and final show. The Baltese people do not expect anything special anymore. They have worn themselves out expecting something special. So it is not surprising that both the expectant crowd and the magician alike are stunned to watch a life-size elephant thunder through the ceiling and crush a woman’s legs. What, after all, are they supposed to do with something so impossible as that?

And what will that mean for our little orphan soldier?

From the author who gave readers BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, THE TALES OF DESPERAUX, THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE and GREAT JOYcomes a tale of magic, courage, manhood, hope and light that lives up to everything we have grown to expect and love from Kate DiCamillo. THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT is the story of a boy and an elephant and the things that could happen if the world would only just believe. It is as true as it could possibly be. So come closer, dear readers, she is going to tell you a story.

Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens on March 8, 2011

The Magician’s Elephant
written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka