Monday, July 5, 2010

The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo

Title:  The Magician's Elephant
Author:  Kate DiCamillo
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Pages:  201
Genre:  Fantasy
Age Level:  4th-6th Grade

Plot Summary:
Peter, a 10 year-old boy living in the town of Baltese, is sent by his guardian, Vilna Lutz, to get bread and fish at the market.  On the way, he sees a fortuneteller's tent, with a sign promising the true answer to one question for exactly the amount of money that Peter was given.  Peter is torn-should he buy the food he's been sent for, or should he spend the money on getting the answer to a question that has plagued him his whole life-is his sister still alive? He decides he needs to know the answer, and enters the fortuneteller's tent.  The fortuneteller reveals that not only is his sister still alive-despite what his guardian may have told him-but an elephant will lead him to her.  Since this seems impossible, Peter goes away still conflicted.  Conflicted, that is, until and elephant comes crashing through the ceiling of a theater during a magic show, sending the whole town into a dither.  What follows is a sequence of events that is magical, fantastical, impossible-but what if?  What if?  Peter will need the help of a policeman, a noblewoman, a beggar, and a blind dog, but he will eventually find what he is looking for.

The only Kate DiCamillo book I had read previously was Because of Winn Dixie, and somehow I expected this tale to be much like that-slightly supernatural elements blended into a very real story.  Had I done any research on DiCamillo before reading The Magician's Elephant, I would have realized that Because of Winn Dixie is the anomaly in her bibliography. With novels like The Tale of Despereaux, about a mouse on a quest to rescue a princess, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, about a small china rabbit that is passed from person to person, DiCamillo feels very comfortable in the land of fantasy.   The Magician's Elephant combines themes of family and finding where you truly belong with elements of magic to create a rather quirky book.

Peter himself is a strong, brave young boy, who stands up for what he knows to be true.  If only we were all so brave!  Despite knowing that what he imagines seems impossible to everyone else, he convinces them to help him with his steadfast resolve and belief in himself.  The story has a lot of longing-Peter's longing for the truth about his sister, and for the days when his parents were alive; the magician's longing to do one bit of extraordinary magic; the policeman's longing for children; Vilna's longing for great battles and says gone by.  Finally, it is the elephant's longing for home that drives the final sequence of events, the one that brings Peter and his sister back together into the waiting arms of their new family.

I suppose in the end that is the final message of the book-if you can dream it, you can make it be true.  Instead of saying "I can't", ask yourself, "What if?"

Teacher Resources:
 Reader's Guides from Kate DiCamillo's Website

Elephant Activities

Kate DiCamillo Discusses The Magician's Elephant

The Magician's Elephant Discussion Guide-pdf

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