Monday, February 13, 2012

MMGM--The Magician's Elephant

First of all, thank you ALL for the very warm welcome last week on my very first Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post! Talk about warm fuzzies!

I kinda like the idea of doing Minnesota authors for the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews. Goodness knows, I have plenty to choose from! I looked at Jacqueline West last week, there's the ever-popular Neil Gaiman, Kurtis Scaletta, and today's author, Kate DiCamillo.

(I'm sure there are others, but that's just off the top of my head...)

I went to the local writing local center this past weekend to hear Kate DiCamillo speak. In preparation, I grabbed The Magician's Elephant from the library on Friday afternoon in hopes of reading some of it before Sunday. I ended up reading the whole thing. In one sitting. That, folks, is called killing two birds with one stone.

Title: The Magician's Elephant
Author: Kate DiCamillo (website)
Date published: September, 2009

From Goodreads:
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 mysterious 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 struggled with this review. Not because the book is bad (far from it!), but because I'm not sure it will resonate with many readers in the target audience. So let me say the bad part right now: I don't think I can recommend this book to my nephews, which is my litmus test for middle grade books I read.

But.. and this is a big caveat... I can and do recommend The Magician's Elephant for anyone who enjoys lyrical prose. The best way I can describe this book is that it's literary fiction for children. Beautiful, lyrical, and delicious fiction. I was gladly transported to DiCamillo's world where she led us on a guided tour of all that is magical and wonderful

DiCamillo did an OUTSTANDING job of weaving together the stories of random characters in this small European town. As the reader, I sat back and had faith that these little morsels of goodness were going to come full circle in the end, and they did.

I didn't feel the main character's voice stood out from the others, which was too bad. The more I think about it, the voice I remember the best was that of the Magician. DiCamillo excelled, however, when it came to theme. As a budding author, I struggle finding the overarching theme to my books. In this one, the themes clearly resonated with me: love, magic, and above all, hope.

Forgive my scattered notes, but like I said, I struggled with this review. Here are my other thoughts:

--Due to its lyrical nature, I think this book would be better absorbed if read aloud. I didn't check, but I'm curious to know if there's an audiobook and if so, who the voice is.

--Someone on Goodreads compared this book to Polar Express. I thought that was an appropriate analogy. Beautiful story, but again, I'm not sure how much it appeals to kids, or parents who want to feel like kids again.

--Maybe this is because the elephant is my absolute favorite animal. Fave. Ever. Hands down. About 3/4 of the way through, I paused and asked myself, "Is the elephant going to live?"** I found myself wanting to know about the physical and emotional state of the elephant, especially once it was put on display.

(**= Some other time I'll go into how Charlotte's Web scarred me for years, but trust me when I tell you that I am INCREDIBLY cautious of books where animals might die. Cautious as in, I just won't read them. I know my limits, they include animals.)


  1. Wait... wait wait wait. Elephants are your favorite animal? Elephants are MY favorite animal too! OMG! I have elephants all over my house, and i have an elephant tattoo too!
    Omg, we are so awesome!
    Back to the post at hand, i totally want to read this book now. It sounds great!

    1. Shut. Up. Really? How haven't we covered this yet? I have tons of little statues in my house and when I seem them in zoos, I usually cry. I haven't set foot in a circus in YEARS because, well, just yeah. I don't. I can't.

  2. I've read a couple of her stories and found them really charming. I know you were nervous yesterday, but you got through it, right? Like a writer. Heheh.

    And I do hope no one sat down in the stall next to you when you stopped for a potty break on your way out. *inside joke* :P

    1. lol! Nope, everyone observed the non-spoken "One Stall Buffer" rule. :)

      The conference was good except that I didn't win any door prizes. Oh well. Took some good notes, brainstormed some angles for my story, and then left so I could make it to my spin class. All in all, a good way to spend my Sunday!

  3. I'm so jealous that you have access to The Loft! I don't read a lot of MG fiction so I really appreciate your reviews.

  4. for some reason my stupid PC won't let me reply to comments, so now i have to use a new one.
    Yes! Love me the elephants! I have them all over the house too!

  5. Ooh, I didn't know Kate DiCamillo had a new book out. Thanks for a great review--this sounds fantabulous!

    1. Hi, Cheryl--I wouldn't call this one "new" since it came out at the end of 2009, but yes, I believe she does have a new one coming soon!

  6. This is a great review! I haven't seen that one on the shelves yet, and I'm not sure it'd be my thing, but I really loved your perspective on it.

  7. Sigh. Clearly I'm not doing enough reading....


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