The Magician's Elephant

Common Sense Media says

Magical, inspirational story perfect for reading aloud.





What parents need to know

Educational value
Not applicable
Positive messages

Honesty and forgiveness and how they can set you free are two major themes. Also, loneliness and the importance of companionship for the magician and family for Peter.

Positive role models

Though Peter starts out the book using money meant for food to pay a fortuneteller, he's otherwise a wonderful influence on those around him, and wants to honor both his mother's dying wish and to protect the elephant. A minor character makes a major impact with his story about how almost falling to his death made him decide that "life is funny" and laugh a lot more.

Violence & scariness

At the pivotal event a woman's legs are crushed by the elephant and she suffers pain and sleeplessness every night afterward. Many mentions that Peter's mother died in childbirth and his father in the war. Vilna Lutz has a wooden foot and suffers fevers and madness after years of military service. A short description of how an army dog became blind from a nearby explosion. Mention of how a stonemason suffered a major fall off a cathedral and barely lived.

Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that though this story can feel somewhat dark with mentions of death in childbirth, legs crushed, and a near-fatal fall, there are wonderful messages to discuss with kids about how honesty and forgiveness can set you free. This is definitely one of those tales that's worth reading aloud and sharing.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

When an elephant busts through the roof of the opera house, crushing the legs of Madam LaVaughn in a magic trick gone awry, the whole town is abuzz, especially young Peter. He was just told by a fortuneteller that an elephant would lead him to his sister. Years earlier it was his mother's dying wish that he protect her but his guardian, the military man Vilna Lutz, insists that she didn't survive. Now he must find a way to free the elephant, which requires the help of the incarcerated magician, poor Madam LaVaughn, and a kindly neighbor policeman.

Is it any good?


It's the curious characters here as well as the wonderful lessons that carry this heart-felt fable to a new level. And guaranteed as the story is read aloud -- and really should be -- a different character will resonate with different members of the family. Parents will probably enjoy Bartok Whynn and his new lease on life or the singing beggar and his dog. Kids will enjoy Sister Marie and Adele and their dreams, and all animal lovers will cheer when Peter promises to help the elephant. Then there's the policeman and his kindly wife, who of course want children and can't have them. You'll even want to spend more time with the silly socialite who houses the elephant and crazy Vilna Lutz who insists on Peter eating old bread to toughen him up for military life.

But once all these lives intertwine, the story is over faster than the elephant appeared in the opera house, making THE MAGICIAN'S ELEPHANT a book that's easily enjoyed over and over.

Tanka's illustrations are dark and shadowy but warm and atmospheric. The personalities of DiCamillo's odd assortment of characters come through.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the elephant. What does he represent to each character? Why did he end up in a ballroom for show?

  • Families can also talk about honesty. Peter doubts Vilna Lutz, while Madam LaVaughn doubts the magician. How do they confront them? Why was it important for these characters to both confront them and forgive? Can you think of a time this has happened in your own life?

Book details

Author:Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator:Yoko Tanaka
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Candlewick Press
Publication date:September 8, 2009
Number of pages:201
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 13
Read aloud:7
Read alone:8

This review of The Magician's Elephant was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 4 and 7 year old Written byTuesdayBear July 31, 2010

A little boring for my seven year old

The writing was awesome, but my seven year old daughter thought it was boring. We stopped reading it, although I plan to try again when she's a bit older. It seems like a very good story.
Adult Written byEezreviews October 21, 2009

A sweet tale that parents will love

For kids who love to dream or just ask "what if" this sweet tale about a boy searching for his lost sister who truly believes he will find her again. While there are both a fortuneteller and a magician in this story, the focus isn't so much on magic and psychic powers as it is on the power of love and change and people being willing to help others.
What other families should know
Great messages
Kid, 10 years old October 13, 2009

Another good one by Kate DiCamillo!

I really liked this story! I think it is good for kids 8+. Sensitive readers might be upset at some points in the story, for, as in her other book (The Tale of Desperaux), there is some sadness. I think that SOME parents (the ones with empathetic children) might want to read this beforehand.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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