Book Review: The Magician's Elephant

Peter Augustus Duchene lives a Spartan existence with his guardian, Vilna Lutz, but in his heart he longs for the life he had before his parents died and his infant sister, Adele, disappeared. Vilna maintains that Adele died at birth, but Peter allows himself to hope that she survived after a magician accidentally brings an elephant crashing through the ceiling of the town opera house—seemingly fulfilling a fortune teller’s prophecy that an elephant will lead him to his sister. To find her, though, Peter must defy Vilna and release the elephant from captivity. Can he do it? With the help of many unlikely friends, he will try.

The Magician’s Elephant reads a little like a parable about the transformative power of hope and the value of community. Some readers (I’m guessing older ones) may become frustrated with the pacing of the book, which inches along toward a gentle conclusion without too much consideration for plot advancement. But Kate DiCamillo, who has won a Newberry Award and numerous other acclaims, knows her audience well. Children will be captured by her sharply drawn and haunting characters, and by Peter’s world—populated with fortunetellers, magicians, noblewomen, and soldiers—in which anything is possible.

Julia Felsenthal

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