Reviews for Magician's Elephant


Booklist Reviews 2009 July #1
*Starred Review* From the unexpectedly miraculous feats of a two-bit illusionist to the transformative powers of love, forgiveness, and a good mutton stew, there is much magic afoot in this fablelike tale from the author of the Newbery-winning Tale of Despereaux (2003). In DiCamillo's fifth novel, a young orphan named Peter Augustus Duchene suspects that the sibling he long thought dead is actually alive. Peter seeks out the services of a fortune-teller, who informs him that his younger sister, Adele, lives and--even more astoundingly--that an elephant will lead him to her. The winter-worn city of Baltese seems the last place Peter could expect to find such an exotic creature, but that very night a magician performing at the local opera house conjures one out of thin air, a wondrous but cataclysmic event that proves to have dire consequences. When the displaced elephant is put on public display, Peter is so stirred by her obvious suffering that he is compelled to risk the one chance he has of finding Adele to set things right. Although the novel explores many of the same weighty issues as DiCamillo's previous works, characters here face even more difficult hurdles, including the loss of loved ones, physical disabilities, and the cost of choices made out of desperation and fear. The profound and deeply affecting emotions at work in the story are buoyed up by the tale's succinct, lyrical text; gentle touches of humor; and uplifting message of redemption, hope, and the interminable power of asking, What if? Tanaka's charming black-and-white acrylic illustrations have a soft, period feel that perfectly matches the tone of this spellbinding story. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

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ForeWord Magazine Reviews 2009 September/October
"We are always happy when people live, ain't we?" says a woman to a young boy who is desperately searching for the elephant he believes will lead him to his long lost sister. The simplicity and relevance of this statement resonates throughout The Magician's Elephant, as beggars turn the commonplace into music, blind dogs dream of war, and police officers constantly question: "What if?"

The novel tells the story of Peter, a young boy living in the city of Baltese with Vilna Lutz, an aging soldier whose lucidity lasts just long enough to instruct the boy in the martial ways: honor and the strength to halt tears. The book opens with a fortune teller informing Peter that his sister, who he believed had died the day she was born, has in fact been alive these six years. What's more, an elephant will guide him to her. Unwilling to put hope into such an implausible story, Peter tries to forget the gypsy's words, until he learns of a curious event at the town's opera house: a magician, trying to conjure a bouquet of lilies out of thin air, instead produced an elephant, which landed in the lap of a noblewoman.

The power of DiCamillo's writing enables the hope and determination of the characters to break through the gloom that permeates the story. The weather is dismal in Baltese: "No one could recall a winter so thoroughly, uniformly gray." The situations of the characters seem as bleak as the sunless sky---from Peter's forced diet of "the smallest possible fish" and moldy bread, to the crushed legs of the noblewoman who had the misfortune of acting as the elephant's landing[Sat Sep 20 08:12:19 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. pad. Yet, Peter dreams of beautiful golden wheat fields and truly believes that he will find his sister. A man who falls from a great height and snaps his spine realizes that "life is funny" and laughs for the rest of his lopsided days. The cold gray streets and the lonely apartments that serve as a dreary backdrop make the book's spirit of optimism shine even more brightly.

Although The Magician's Elephant is recommended for children ages 8-13, Dicamillo never talks down to her young readers. When a group of policemen gather to discuss what to do with the elephant, one officer suggests they find it a home, to which a fellow officer replies, "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." Middle reader literature rarely includes sarcasm, since authors believe it would be over most kids' heads. Other middle-grade authors might be wary of including the circular, old-fashioned style of dialogue that gives the story the air of an old European village. DiCamillo has enough faith in her readers' ability to include both literary elements as well as a generous helping of large vocabulary words.

Complementing the text are the haunting drawings of Yoko Tanaka, whose gray shadowed sketches seem somber, but not frightening. The illustrations are simultaneously whimsical and ghostly, and emphasize the story's sophistication.

New mystical novels for teens seem to be popping up everywhere, but most are targeting readers in their middle and upper teens. As the Harry Potter series progressed, plots of romance and impending adulthood became nearly as relevant as spells. In The Magician's Elephant, DiCamillo returns to themes more relevant to a younger audience: how magic can make a whole community believe in the impossible, and that those who never doubt its existence will be rewarded with the answers to their dreams. Like its contemporary, A Series of Unfortunate Events, DiCamillo's book uses dark undertones and understated humor, but The Magician's Elephant differs in its unwavering positive message.

DiCamillo's work in the young adult field has already been recognized by the literary community; she was awarded the Newberry Medal for Because of Winn Dixie, which was adapted for film. With The Magician's Elephant, DiCamillo has again captured the loneliness and unwavering optimism that can only be found in children. (September) ©2009 ForeWord Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

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ForeWord Magazine Reviews 2009 November/December
“We are always happy when people live, ain’t we?” says a woman to a young boy who is desperately searching for the elephant he believes will lead him to his long lost sister. The simplicity and relevance of this statement resonates throughout The Magician’s Elephant, as beggars turn the commonplace into music, blind dogs dream of war, and police officers constantly question: “What if?” The novel tells the story of Peter, a young boy living in the city of Baltese with Vilna Lutz, an aging soldier whose lucidity lasts just long enough to instruct the boy in the martial ways: honor and the strength to halt tears. The book opens with a fortune teller informing Peter that his sister, who he believed had died the day she was born, has in fact been alive these six years. What’s more, an elephant will guide him to her. Unwilling to put hope into such an implausible story, Peter tries to forget the gypsy’s words, until he learns of a curious event at the town’s opera house: a magician, trying to conjure a bouquet of lilies out of thin air, instead produced an elephant, which landed in the lap of a noblewoman. The power of DiCamillo’s writing enables the hope and determination of the characters to break through the gloom that permeates the story. The weather is dismal in Baltese: “No one could recall a winter so thoroughly, uniformly gray.” The situations of the characters seem as bleak as the sunless sky-from Peter’s forced diet of “the smallest possible fish” and moldy bread, to the crushed legs of the noblewoman who had the misfortune of acting as the elephant’s landing pad. Yet, Peter dreams of beautiful golden wheat fields and truly believes that he will find his sister. A man who falls from a great height and snaps his spine realizes that “life is funny” and laughs for the rest of his lopsided days. The cold gray streets and the lonely apartments that serve as a dreary backdrop make the book’s spirit of optimism shine even more brightly. Although The Magician’s Elephant is recommended for children ages 8-13, Dicamillo never talks down to her young readers. When a group of policemen gather to discuss what to do with the elephant, one officer suggests they find it a home, to which a fellow officer replies, “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.” Middle reader literature rarely includes sarcasm, since authors believe it would be over most kids’ heads. Other middle-grade authors might be wary of including the circular, old-fashioned style of dialogue that gives the story the air of an old European village. DiCamillo has enough faith in her readers’ ability to include both literary elements as well as a generous helping of large vocabulary words. Complementing the text are the haunting drawings of Yoko Tanaka, whose gray shadowed sketches seem somber, but not frightening. The illustrations are simultaneously whimsical and ghostly, and emphasize the story’s sophistication. New mystical novels for teens seem to be popping up everywhere, but most are targeting readers in their middle and upper teens. As the Harry Potter series progressed, plots of romance and impending adulthood became nearly as relevant as spells. In The Magician’s Elephant, DiCamillo returns to themes more relevant to a younger audience: how magic can make a whole community believe in the impossible, and that those who never doubt its existence will be rewarded with the answers to their dreams. Like its contemporary, A Series of Unfortunate Events, DiCamillo’s book uses dark undertones and understated humor, but The Magician’s Elephant differs in its unwavering positive message. DiCamillo’s work in the young adult field has already been recognized by the literary community; she was awarded the Newberry Medal for Because of Winn Dixie, which was adapted for film. With The Magician’s Elephant, DiCamillo has again captured the loneliness and unwavering optimism that can only be found in children. ©2009 ForeWord Reviews. All Rights Reserved

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Spring
In a fictional Old World city, Peter searches for his sister, instructed by a fortuneteller to "follow the elephant." The book's theme is the triumph of hope over despair, as Peter's idea that the "world is broken" gives way to a belief in possibility. DiCamillo's prose is remarkable in this allegorical and surreal novel. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #5
DiCamillo's allegorical novel seems to pack more mass per square inch than average. The plot is fantastical, surreal: in the fictional Old World city of Baltese, orphaned Peter searches for his sister (whom he has long thought dead), having been instructed by a fortuneteller to "follow the elephant." Against all odds, there is an elephant: conjured up by a magician by accident, it has landed on a woman's lap, crippling her. As DiCamillo expands her premise, she adds more and more characters to her cast (ˆ la The Mouse and His Child), from a singing beggar to a countess to an old soldier fixated on war. The book's theme is the triumph of hope over despair, as Peter's belief that the "world is broken and it cannot be fixed" eventually gives way to a belief in possibility ("What if? Why not? Could it be?") -- familiar territory for this author (The Tale of Despereaux, rev. 9/03; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, rev. 3/06). But its manifestation here is unusually varied, from homey (a nourishing soup Peter's new mother feeds him) to ecstatic (a nun's dream of flying over a glowing Earth). And the prose is remarkable, reflecting influences from Kafka to the theater of the absurd to Laurel-and-Hardy humor. Even DiCamillo's characters influence the language: in scenes revolving around the self-important countess, the prose becomes verbose, repetitive, full of embedded parentheses. The novel's virtuosity, however, creates a distance between book and reader that may confound the author's fans. This may not be a crowd-pleaser, but it's an impressive addition to the DiCamillo canon. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2009 August #1
Ten-year-old Peter Augustus Duchene goes to the market for fish and bread but spends it at the fortuneteller's tent instead. Seeking his long-lost sister, Peter is told, "You must follow the elephant. She will lead you there." And that very night at the Bliffenendorf Opera House, a magician's spell goes awry, conjuring an elephant that crashes through the ceiling and lands on Madam Bettine LaVaughn. Reading like a fable told long ago, with rich language that begs to be read aloud, this is a magical story about hope and love, loss and home, and of questioning the world versus accepting it as it is. Brilliant imagery juxtaposes "glowering and resentful" gargoyles and snow, stars and the glowing earth, and Tanaka's illustrations (not all seen) bring to life the city and characters from "the end of the century before last." A quieter volume than The Tale of Despereaux (2003) and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2006), this has an equal power to haunt readers long past the final page. (Fantasy. 8-13) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 August #3

In DiCamillo's fifth novel, a clairvoyant tells 10-year-old Peter, an orphan living with a brain-addled ex-soldier, that an elephant will lead him to his sister, who the ex-soldier claims died at birth. The fortuneteller's prediction seems cruelly preposterous as there are no pachyderms anywhere near Baltese, a vaguely eastern European city enduring a bitter winter. Then that night at the opera house, a magician "of advanced years and failing reputation" attempts to conjure a bouquet of lilies but instead produces an elephant that crashes through the ceiling. Peter learns that both magician and beast have been jailed, and upon first glimpse of the imprisoned elephant, Peter realizes that his fate and the elephant's are linked. The mannered prose and Tanaka's delicate, darkly hued paintings give the story a somber and old-fashioned feel. The absurdist elements--street vendors peddle chunks of the now-infamous opera house ceiling with the cry "Possess the plaster of disaster!"--leaven the overall seriousness, and there is a happy if predictable ending for the eccentric cast of anguished characters, each finding something to make them whole. Ages 8-13. (Sept.)

[Page 63]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2009 August

Gr 4-6--On a perfectly ordinary day, Peter Augustus Duchene goes to the market square of the city of Baltese. Instead of buying the fish and bread that his guardian, Vilna Lutz, has asked him to procure, he uses the coin to pay a fortune-teller to get information about his sister, whom he believes to be dead. He is told that she is alive, and that an elephant will lead him to her. That very night at a performance in the town's opera house, a magician conjures up an elephant (by mistake) that crashes through the roof and cripples the society dame she happens to land on. The lives of the boy, his guardian, and the local policeman, along with the magician and his unfortunate victim, as well as a beggar, his dog, a sculptor, and a nun all intertwine in a series of events triggered by the appearance of the elephant. Miraculous events resolve not only the mystery of the whereabouts of Peter's sister, but also the deeper needs of all of the individuals involved. DiCamillo's carefully crafted prose creates an evocative aura of timelessness for a story that is, in fact, timeless. Tanaka's acrylic artwork is meticulous in detail and aptly matches the tone of the narrative. This is a book that demands to be read aloud.--Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO

[Page 102]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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VOYA Reviews 2009 August
I intended only lilies. In a small 1890-something European village, an anonymous traveling magician changes lives forever when a simple trick goes tragically wrong. Instead of lovely flowers, a full-grown elephant falls through the ceiling of the theater, landing on a woman and crushing her legs. At almost the same moment, young Peter hears from a fortuneteller that Adele, the sister he had been told was dead is actually alive and that an elephant would reunite them DiCamillo entrances her audience with a group of quaint characters to accompany Peter and Adele on their journey back to one another--a crippled carver of gargoyles, an embittered soldier, a childless policeman and his wife, and a noblewoman who insists on housing the elephant in her ballroom. Each plays a valuable role in the others' lives as individual answers to the question, "What if?" become clear. Tanaka's pencil illustrations in shades of gray portray the characters as stiff and angular, almost marionette-like in appearance, they but are an oddly agreeable match for the fantastical events. Thoughtful readers will feel a quiet satisfaction with this almost dainty tale of impossible happenings.--Pam Carlson 4Q 3P M J Copyright 2009 Voya Reviews.

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