The Magician’s Elephant Review

magicians_elephantThe Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

Candlewick Press, 2009. 978-0763644109

Synopsis: Peter Augustus Duchene wants to know if his sister is still alive. A traveling magician wants to perform the greatest magic of his career. Tomas wants to be able to sing his songs; his dog Iddo wants to be able to carry messages again like he did in the war. Bartok Whynn wants to be able to carve one final creation out of stone. Policeman Leo Matienne ponders the questions ‘what if?’ and ‘why not?’ Adele dreams of an elephant that comes knocking on the orphanage door in search of her. All of their fates are tied to the sudden appearance of an elephant, and their lives become intertwined in the most fantastic way.

Why I picked it up: I bought it at a second-hand bookstore as a birthday present for myself.

Why I finished it: This book is very lyrical and thoughtful in the way it ponders how the impossible and unbelievable become possible. All of the characters are in search of some manner of love and warmth, but somehow the ordinary day-to-day is insufficient enough to be able to change the course of their lives. This desire to belong and to be understood is something to which the reader can relate. We empathize with Peter’s aching desire to be reunited with his sister. We understand the magician’s motivations to perform some marvelous feat before he moves on. We identify with Leo Matienne’s ponderings, wondering if we ourselves are or could be part of something much larger than ourselves. And in a way, all of the characters have a part to play in making each other’s dreams into realities. The plot does have a very flowing quality to it, gradually drifting from page to page, enticing the reader to continue their journey. What tripped me up was the quantity of secondary characters that DiCamillo introduces in the latter half of the story. They are likable enough in their own way, but they seem to distract from the primary focus of the story and don’t seem to have much of a function in the larger picture. Yes, their lives are affected by the appearance of the elephant, but to a much smaller degree that, quite frankly, the story might have managed without. Tanaka’s illustrations are very reminiscent of The Invention of Hugo Cabret in that they use strategic shading to bring the scene to life. The variation of the lines in the drawings have a poetic quality to them that matches DiCamillo’s writing perfectly. It’s a sweet story about the power of love, the belief that anything is possible, and proof that one should never stop asking questions even if there seem to be no answers.

Other related materials: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo; The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo; Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo; Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss; The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate; The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall; Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Donna Diamond; A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff; Saavy by Ingrid Law; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt; The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg; The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick


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