Sunday, October 17, 2010

Module 8: The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

The Magician’s Elephant tells the story of Peter, an orphan who is being raised by a former soldier. Under Vilna Lutz’s strict care Peter lives with little joy and pleasure. One day Peter is sent to the market for food but spends Vilna’s money on a fortune teller instead. It is predicted that his sister, long thought dead, is still alive. The fortune teller tells Peter that he will be lead to his sister by an elephant. That night an elephant is conjured by a magician and falls through the ceiling of the venue where he is performing. Peter strives to correct the damage caused by the elephant and magician and is eventually lead to his sister and a life with her and two loving parents.

Initially, I found this book difficult to get into. As the story progressed I began to fall in love with the characters and the mood created by DiCamillo. I found Peter’s determination inspiring. I was most touched by his concern for the elephant. He pursued the elephant with the belief that it would lead him to his sister. Upon meeting the elephant he realized that she was unhappy, uncomfortable and a long way from home in her current habitat. Peter shifts his focus from his sister to the well being of the elephant and in the end he is rewarded for doing what is right. This is a key lesson for readers that DiCamillo communicates beautifully without being heavy-handed in the way of morality. The mood DiCamillo creates is dark and shadowy with glimpses of light and hope. In regards to mood I am reminded of books like The Polar Express. Finally, this story contains multiple storylines that eventually weave together and are resolved with a common solution similar to Holes by Louis Sachar. I think stories like this one help readers think outside of themselves and realized that their problems are not the only problems that need to be resolved.

Review: Publishers Weekly
In DiCamillo's fifth novel, a clairvoyant tells 10-year-old Peter, an orphan living with a brain-addled ex-soldier, that an elephant will lead him to his sister, who the ex-soldier claims died at birth. The fortuneteller's prediction seems cruelly preposterous as there are no pachyderms anywhere near Baltese, a vaguely eastern European city enduring a bitter winter. Then that night at the opera house, a magician "of advanced years and failing reputation" attempts to conjure a bouquet of lilies but instead produces an elephant that crashes through the ceiling. Peter learns that both magician and beast have been jailed, and upon first glimpse of the imprisoned elephant, Peter realizes that his fate and the elephant's are linked. The mannered prose and Tanaka's delicate, darkly hued paintings give the story a somber and old-fashioned feel. The absurdist elements--street vendors peddle chunks of the now-infamous opera house ceiling with the cry "Possess the plaster of disaster!"--leaven the overall seriousness, and there is a happy if predictable ending for the eccentric cast of anguished characters, each finding something to make them whole.

Suggested Activities
I would use this book in a display of books with a magic related theme. My hope would be to attract readers to this story by displaying it with other magic related favorites like Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl.

DiCamillo, K. (2009) The Magician’s Elephant. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN: 0763644102.

[Review of the book The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo]. Publishers Weekly, 256(33), 63-63.

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