The Magician's Elephant
By Carrie R. Wheadon,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Magical, inspirational story perfect for reading aloud.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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 to 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.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Magician's Elephant, by Kate Di Camillo, is the story of Peter, a 10-year-old boy who's an orphan looking for his sister. After a fortuneteller tells him an elephant will lead him to her, he stumbles across one that's fallen into an opera house. Though the story is 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. The book has been adapted for an animated film, set to begin streaming on Paramount+ March 17, 2023.
Where to Read
Based on 6 parent reviews
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Kate DiCamillo is such a lovely storyteller...
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What's the Story?
When THE MAGICIAN'S 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?
Curious characters and wonderful lessons carry this heartfelt fable to a new level. The Magician's Elephant makes a great read-aloud, and different characters 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 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. Once all these lives intertwine, the story is over faster than the elephant appeared in the opera house, making The Magician's Elephant easily enjoyed over and over.
Tanka's illustrations are dark and shadowy but warm and atmospheric. The personalities of author Kate DiCamillo's odd assortment of characters come through.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the elephant in The Magician's 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?
There's a message in the story that forgiveness can set you free. What does that mean? Have you ever noticed that feeling after you forgave someone?
- Author: Kate DiCamillo
- Illustrator: Yoko Tanaka
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Brothers and Sisters
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Integrity
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Candlewick Press
- Publication date: September 8, 2009
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 13
- Number of pages: 201
- Last updated: July 12, 2017
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