Monday, September 7, 2009

The Magician's Elephant by Kae DiCamillo

Pub date - September 8, 2009

What if? Why not? Could it be?

When a fortuneteller's tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortuneteller's mys
terious answer (an elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true. With atmospheric illustrations by fine artist Yoko Tanaka, here is a dreamlike and captivating tale that could only be narrated by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. In this timeless fable, she evokes the largest of themes — hope and belonging, desire and compassion — with the lightness of a magician’s touch. (

I snagged a chapter preview of this book at BEA and once I read it, I immediately, and I mean immediately (at like 10 at night on a Tuesday or something like that), requested an ARC from the publicist. I had to have it, I was that enamored with just the one chapter I read.

And let me tell, the rest of the book certainly didn't disappoint. At all.

It's about a boy whose only hope in life was to join the military and be a good soldier like his father. But he had a doubt. He doubted that what Vilna Lutz, his caretaker, told him about his sister, Adele, was true. Peter was always told she was dead. When Peter goes to town and decided to spend food money on a fortune teller, he hears otherwise, and that the magician's elephant will take him to her. It sounds amazingly far-fetched. I mean, what could an elephant possibly have to do with this, right?

And that's when one comes crashing through the ceiling of the local opera house and right into the lap of a well to-do woman that the wheels start in motion for the rest of the book. All Peter wants, no, needs, to do is get to this elephant because he knows he can get to his sister through the animal. He has no idea how, but he believes everything will work itself out.

Every once in a while the story shifts to Adele's perspective and it's like little pieces of my heart get torn off and set on fire. Her situation isn't dire but it's one of those so close yet so far scenarios. And she starts having a dream of an elephant coming to rescue her from the orphanage, to take her away to a happier place. And all the while you're still trying to figure out how the deuce this is all going to play out.

The writing is absolutely amazing. I really need to read more of DiCamillo's work. It's such a simply told story told in the tone of an older time fairy tale of sorts but in that simplicity lies the depth of the story itself. Yes, Peter just wants to find his sister but him starting on this quest opens up so many more doors. Soon it's not just his sister he's worried about but the well-being of the elephant and even the magician that's stuck in the jail cell because of his surprise magic stunt.

And the very end, you can see it coming. It's alluded to, and not subtly, right around the middle of the book, but even so, when it gets there, you can't help but have tears in your eyes because finally, they're all happy. And I'm not one for happy endings either, people. Usually I think they're too fluffy and blah. But here it fits. It's just so nice and comforting to see these two children get someone wonderful after struggling for so long. And they're so young to boot!

Even though the writing is simple, it's told in such a fluid language that it pours over you like a waterfall that you just can't get enough of. Just at the plot is allowed to branch in such simplicity, we're allowed to see multi-dimensional characters in their simplest forms. They are in no way shape or form cardboard cut-outs or pandering to the will of the main character. They are fully flesh and blood with such rich feelings that I have a hard time seeing other authors attempting to create such rich characters with so few, and so simple, words. Therein lies such amazing talent.

And the drawings. Oi! There aren't very many in my little ARC but the few that are in there are absolutely astounding. Yoko Tanaka is a truly talented artist and the simplicity of the drawings matches the simplicity of the words so thoroughly. But it's not like they're stick figures here. They are rich, fully realized drawings that capture scenes at their zenith, but they're not superfluous or overtly elaborate. They just capture the moment as it was meant to be.

This is a middle grade book and it can be read probably in about an hour but you will feel so much richer for having read it. It makes you feel good. Your eyes might get a little wet, and you will feel the pain of these children and that poor, poor elephant, but you will enjoy the book immensely. I have no doubt. There's nothing not to enjoy here. Not a bit.

1 comment:

robin_titan said...

This book sounds great! Even if it is a middle grade book. I loved the two books of hers I read in middle school, Because of Winn Dixie and The Tale of Desperaux they were both pretty darn heartwarming.

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