The Magician's Elephant

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Magician's Elephant Book Poster Image
Parents recommend
Magical, inspirational story perfect for reading aloud.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value
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 & Representations

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.


What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMorning Sun June 13, 2021

Brilliant Author

There are no words to adequately describe brilliance of Kate DeCamillo. Poetic, symbolic, deep, but humorous and not heavy handed, altlhough it isn't a li... Continue reading
Parent of a 9-year-old Written bycagey11 March 19, 2017

Kate DiCamillo is such a lovely storyteller...

Her books are always a joy to read aloud, and this one is no exception. This story is absurd in the best way, and DiCamillo makes heartwarming poetry of it. S... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byDeetz February 14, 2021

Must read

This is sad but a must read. Once again, Kate DiCamillo writes an amazing story! Please read this book! You won’t regret it.
Kid, 10 years old June 13, 2020

Really good

I think this book is good from my view

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.

Talk to your kids 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

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