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? Read more...
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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."
- ISBN-13: 9780763644109
- ISBN-10: 0763644102
- Publisher: Candlewick Press (MA)
- Publish Date: September 2009
- Page Count: 208
- Reading Level: Ages 8-12
- Dimensions: 7.76 x 5.58 x 0.76 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.68 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 63.
- Review Date: 2009-08-17
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)
Kate DiCamillo's captivating fable
At first glance, the intriguing title and cover illustration will pique readers’ curiosity about the eponymous pachyderm of The Magician’s Elephant. Once inside, however, that intrigue builds immediately, as Kate DiCamillo—in her eloquent, yet understated, prose—unveils the book’s suspense-filled theme. From page one, readers are transported to the market square in Baltese, some 200 years ago. There they follow 10-year-old Peter Augustus Duchene, a poor orphan who spends his last coin on a fortune teller, seeking the answer to one question—whatever became of his long-thought-dead sister?
The fortune teller reveals that his sister is alive and advises Peter, in enigmatic soothsayer fashion, to “follow the elephant” to find out more. The puzzled boy begins his quest to unravel the fortune teller’s meaning.
When a magician’s trick goes awry, an elephant is sent crashing through the roof of an opera house, disabling a town noblewoman. This spectacular event proves fortuitous for Peter and the rest of the town, who become inexplicably drawn to the elephant—a vessel, of sorts, through which they channel their hopes, dreams and wishes. Soon, a chain of events—some mundane, some amazing—results in a simple but impeccably well-told tale about belief, wonder and making the extraordinary come true.
Newbery Award winner DiCamillo has long been a word virtuoso, and this novel solidifies that role. Everything about this story is masterful. The prose is remarkably simple, with underpinnings of delicious dry humor. Yoko Tanaka’s illustrations have a soft Chris Van Allsburg-esque quality, which lend atmosphere to the tale.
The Magician’s Elephant is a well-paced fable about following the ever-elusive truth— a truth that is “forever changing,” as the beggar in the book observes. At its most ambitious, it’s also a haunting analogy of belonging—whether man or beast, rich or poor, beggar or countess, we all just want to be home, to be loved, to belong.
Former children’s librarian Sharon Verbeten is right at home with a husband and toddler, but no mysterious elephants, in De Pere, Wisconsin.