The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

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The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A perfect, heart-warming story for the eight-plus age group. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 978-1406324471

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Peter Augustus Duchene hovered outside the fortune-teller's tent in the market square. To go in and get an answer to his only question would cost all the money that he had – and he'd been given it to go out and buy the cheapest, poorest food that was available. But he had to have an answer to the question and when he asked he was told that, yes, his sister was alive and that the elephant would take him to her. But where in this chilly, northern clime would he find an elephant?

At the opera house the audience is watching the magician with some indifference. He's only the warm-up act and they'd really like him to go and for the virtuoso violinist to come on stage. In desperation he performs the sleight of hand which should result in a bouquet of lilies but mutters the words of a far grander spell and through the roof of the opera house an elephant plummets into the lap of a lady in the audience and she is crippled.

Just occasionally you pick up a book which it's impossible to put down – whatever your age – and The Magician's Elephant is one of these books. The magic isn't just with the magician. It's infused throughout the story as Peter, trapped by his guardian, the old soldier Vilna Lutz, seeks his sister Adele. Lutz says that she was still-born but Peter is sure that his memory is not playing him tricks as he remembers holding the baby and hearing her cry. But when Peter finds the elephant he realises that it's not just his sister he needs to find. He knows that elephant's heart is breaking and that she needs to go home.

In a relatively short book – just over two hundred pages including some wonderfully evocative illustrations by Yoko Tanaka – the character development is superb. No one is black or white – they all have delicate shadings which bring them off the page fully formed. I've read lengthy novels which didn't succeed half as well. The writing is perfect with the sort of vocabulary that the eight-plus age group will find challenging but fun and there isn't a wasted word. The hero is a boy but he's quiet and thoughtful and I'm sure that he'll appeal to girls as much as to boys.

If I had to think of the perfect book for this age group then this would probably be the one that I would choose.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Another book about elephants which we loved and which will also appeal to boys and girls in this age group is The Third Elephant by Penny Dolan.

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The Mitchell Family said:

Beautifully written. Very evocative use of language and very powerful sense of place. Almost musical in the way that the themes of loss, discovery and loneliness are woven together. The kids enjoyed it very much, but the language is slightly too complex for them to register emotional themes. Suitable for a 13-14 year old reader, but poetic to read out loud. Images and themes linger long in the mind!