Camping out with his mother over Labor Day weekend in Maine’s Acadia National Park is supposed to be the best three days of 11-year-old Jack Martel’s summer vacation. But when he awakes after their first night and discovers that his presumably bipolar mother has driven off and disappeared, Jack deduces that she must be “spinning.” Jennifer Richard Jacobson’s nuanced and heart-wrenching middle grade novel, Small as an Elephant, gives a quiet force to one resilient boy and his mentally ill mother.
Afraid that Social Services will take him away from his dysfunctional home (but his home nonetheless), his mother will go to jail, he’ll have to change schools and a host of other worries, Jack begins a 248-mile walk home to Massachusetts. Finding strength in his obsession with elephants, based on one of his first and strongest memories with his mother, he figures out how to forage for food, spend the night after hours at an LL Bean store and evade police when he learns that he’s the “Missing Boy” on the news. Hoping to make his long trek meaningful, Jack changes course, detouring to York’s Wild Kingdom to see Lydia, Maine’s only elephant.
Jack’s endless repertoire of elephant facts and stories, as well as the elephant information and quotes that begin each chapter, show that elephants and humans share many qualities. Both want to be accepted and loved. With a makeshift herd that helps him throughout his journey—supplying food, transportation, friendship and encouragement when he needs it—Jack accepts the truth about his mother and finds forgiveness and a new sense of home. Perhaps, like the elephants, [Tue Sep 2 00:40:22 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. it takes a herd to raise a child.
Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2011 Fall
Eleven-year-old Jack's life is turned upside down when his not-quite-right mother disappears during their Maine camping trip. He sets off on a series of desperate misadventures, not realizing that the whole state of Maine is searching for him. Jacobson has great success putting readers inside Jack's not-always-thinking-things-through mind. The happy yet realistic ending leaves him "light-headed with hope." Copyright 2011 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2011 #2
Jack Martel is obsessed with elephants. He knows everything about them. He knows that "even when in danger, a mother elephant would not leave her calf." But Jack's life is turned upside down when his own mother disappears during their camping trip on Maine's Mount Desert Island. What's an eleven-year-old boy to do? He has little money, home is too far away to walk, and the messages he leaves on his mother's cell phone go unanswered. He can't go to the police because he knows his mother is not quite right, with her manic, spinning, "pinwheel" behavior, and if he tells anyone she left him, he might end up in foster care. His instinct is to protect her and wait for her to come back, but when she doesn't return, Jack sets off on a series of desperate misadventures, sleeping in churches and stores and the backs of trucks. He thinks he's all alone in the world, not realizing that the whole state of Maine is searching for him. Jacobson has great success putting readers inside Jack's not-always-thinking-things-through mind, and by the end of the story, nicely tied together by the elephant theme, Jack comes to realize that he hadn't been alone, that family and people he didn't even know were there for him in a "makeshift herd." The happy yet realistic ending leaves Jack (and readers) "light-headed with hope." dean Schneider Copyright 2011 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2011 February #1
Eleven-year-old Jack is older than his years; he has to be. His mother, suffering from an unnamed mental disorder, has left him behind again. This time he is in a campground on Mount Desert Island in Maine, far from his Boston home. When he wakes up, there is no sign of his mother—no rental car, camping gear or food.ÃÂ Jack only has his cell phone (which his mother is not answering), $14, a tent and his love of elephants—a near-obsession that gives structure to his otherwise chaotic life. Because Jack is used to his mother's manic behavior, he quickly goes into survival mode, figuring out ways to get food and coming up with plans to get home to Boston while evading curious adults. Jack's mother has told him what will happen if he gets turned into the authorities: He will be put into foster care or, worse, sent to live with his maternal grandmother. While there are moments when Jack's journey relies on coincidence, and his ability to elude intervention stretches credibility slightly, Jacobson masterfully puts readers into Jack's mind—he loves and understands his mother, but sometimes his judgments are not always good, and readers understand. His love and knowledge of elephants both sustains him and pleasingly shapes the story arc. Jack's journey to a new kind of family is inspiring and never sappy.ÃÂ (Fiction. 10-14)Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Gr 5-8--Jack, 11, has a bit of an obsession with elephants. The day after he and his mother argue about whether or not they could stop to see an elephant named Lydia at an animal park in York, ME, as part of their vacation, Jack wakes up in his tent at a campground in Acadia National Park to find his Mom, her gear, and her car are gone. Jack is worried, but not totally surprised, as readers learn that this also happened when he was seven. That incident resulted in Jack being placed temporarily with his grandmother, whom his mother always warned him against. So to avoid a repeat of that fate, Jack goes on the lam, stealing an elephant figurine from a gift shop and vegetables from a garden, and arousing suspicion at the library in Bar Harbor. Reminiscent in plot, tone, and quality of Paula Fox's well-regarded Monkey Island (Orchard, 1991), the story certainly provides enough gritty details to make it clear that Jack is lucky to get along as well as he does, but avoids the worst predations that children alone in the world might confront. In the end Jack learns important lessons about his familial relationships and understands that his mother's unresolved mental health issues need not prevent him from moving forward with confidence.--Joel Shoemaker, formerly at South East Junior High School, Iowa City, IA[Page 176]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.