The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

I picked up The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo on my Kindle tempted by the then $.99 price tag. This weekend I was traveling and needed something light and short to read and decided this was a perfect fit.

And it turned out to be a sweet, dream-like fairy tale; and at the same time an inspirational story about the power of dreams and the determination to follow them.

Here is the publisher’s teaser:

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 Peter can hardly dare to believe it.

But it is-all of it-true.

It is worth noting that writing a fairy tale is harder than it might sound.  It is not easy to write short elegant, dream-like fairy tales that don’t come off too saccharine or derivative, etc. The best evidence that DiCamillo had succeeded was that I kept reading until I had finished the story without thinking about it; she drops you into this world and you are soon caught up in it and suspend your disbelief as the saying goes. The story feels like a real fairy tale if that makes sense.

DiCamillo’s simple yet poetic prose creates this atmosphere and fills the story with interesting characters who all play a role in the adventure.  And despite knowing from very early on that this story is likely to have a happy ending you want to keep reading to find out exactly how each characters story plays out. There is a rhythm and flow that draws you forward despite much suspense or sense of danger. You are drawn forward by the character’s personality, history and emotions.

Peter is an earnest young man on the edge of being too good or too sweet but who you find yourself rooting for nevertheless. DiCamillo manages to impart the poignancy of being an orphan with the possibility of a family member still out there; and Peter’s pain at having failed somehow to protect his sister.  This carries over to the policeman and his wife who also have dreams of family and a deep need to be made whole. And the magician, and the elephant, etc.

All of the characters have dreams and all are looking for a way to connect the seemingly cruel fate they have been dealt to something larger and more hopeful. And the appearance of the elephant miraculously, or should I say magically, offers the opportunity for these dreams to come true.

The Magician’s Elephant is a classic story and one that I plan on reading out loud to my children and encouraging them to read as they get older.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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