Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Magician's Elephant (Book Review)

Author: Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka
Year: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Intermediate

Literary Awards: Flicker Tale Children's Book Award Nominee for Juvenile (2011), Goodreads Choice Nominee for Children's Book (2009)

Plot Summary: Orphaned Peter Augustus Duchene was supposed to be buying fish and bread, but he couldn't resist a fortune teller and the promise of an answer to his most burning questions.  Does his sister live?  Yes, comes the answer.  How can he find her?  This answer is much more confusing--follow the elephant.
Red Flags: None.

My Rating: A
I have enjoyed all of Kate DiCamillo's books so it was no surprise that I liked this one.  What DID surprise me was how I cried and cried at the end.  Yes, it's true--I do have a heart after all.  I blame the baby.  That should be endorsement enough, but I will go ahead and say I loved this book.  The vaguely-French setting was lovely and vivid.  The characters were a interesting group, and, as always, the writing was beautiful.  I am always a fan of different threads coming together at the end of a story.  The whole thing was simple and magical and pretty to read.  I love how easily (apparently) she writes about tragic, intangible or otherwise tricky things so simply and gently.  And yet it's not sugar coated or overly precious.  I can see some people thinking this book is a little on the precious side at times, but it wasn't for me.  It was just enough, to paraphrase Goldilocks.

Anyway, I read this in one sitting instead of taking a nap and though I perhaps yawned for the rest of the day, it was worth it. 

Memorable Quotes:

"'Why did I not think of it?  Let us dispatch the elephant immediately to the Home for Wayward Elephants Who Engage in Objectionable Pursuits Against Their Will.  It is right down the street, is it not?'"--p. 32

"'Please,' said Hans Ickman.  He opened his eyes.  'It is important that you say what you mean to say.  Time is too short.  You must speak words that matter.'"--p. 49

"Looking out over the city, Peter decided that it was a terrible and complicated thing to hope, and that it might be easier, instead, to despair."--p. 51

"If she appeared beside him right now, he would show her the star that was sometimes visible through his window.  He would say to her, 'Have you, in truth, ever seen something so heartbreakingly lovely?  What are we to make of a world where stars shine bright in the midst of so much darkness and gloom?'"--p. 147

"'Magic is always impossible,' said the magician. 'It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between.  That is why it is magic.'"--p. 154


  1. Dang. You know I avoid Kate di Camillo because I loved Edward Tulane so much that I thought everything else I read would be a disappointment. But you sold me. I'll have to try this one!

    1. Did I know that?? I can't remember! Anyway I think you should definitely read Desperaux and this one as well. I don't think either will disappoint you! The Tiger Rising and Winn-Dixie are different, though still lovely, but I think you wouldn't like them as much.