Monday, September 12, 2016

Kate DiCamillo’s “The Magician’s Elephant”

Peter Augustus Duchene is an orphan in the city of Baltese. He lives with a retired military man, Vilna Lutz. Lutz sends Peter to the market with a coin to buy fish and bread. But Peter is attracted by the sign for a fortuneteller, and he spends the coin there. She tells him that, to find his sister, he must follow the elephant.

Peter’s sister, he’s been told, die with his mother at childbirth. But he’s suspected that she didn’t die. And here’s the fortuneteller telling him exactly that! But what is this about the elephant?

And then, at the opera house, a magician is performing before the nobles and town dignitaries. He wants to do something spectacular, he thinks, seeing their bored faces. And he means to create a bouquet of lilies, but he utters a different spell and – an elephant comes crashing through the roof.

And so begins the story of The Magician’s Elephant, written by children’s author Kate DiCamillo and illustrated with stark, poignant drawings by Yoko Tanaka.

I first met the writings of Kate DiCamillo through the movie version of her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, a runaway bestseller and a Newberry Honor Book. (It was also a delightful movie.) Her book Flora & Ulysses won the 2014 Newberry Medal, and The Tiger Rising was a National Book Award finalist. She’s also written The Extraordinary Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tale of Despereaux, and several other children’s stories.

DiCamillo creates an atmosphere of gloom and cold around her story, and in fact snow becomes a critical element. Tanaka’s illustrations provide a graphic representation of that atmosphere.

Kate DiCamillo
The Magician’s Elephant is a story of hope and faith, of rescue and responsibility, of a boy’s belief that his sister is still alive, the sister he promised his dying mother he would care for. At times so many themes are moving through this story that it is sufficient to cast analysis to the side and simply read it for the good story that it is.

Note: Starting Sept. 7, L.W. Lindquist is been leading a discussion of The Magician’s Elephant at Tweetspeak Poetry. This is the announcement page. This is the first discussion post: The Magician's Elephant: Naming Names.The discussions continue on Sept. 14 and 21.

Top illustration: detail from the cover of The Magician’s Elephant.

1 comment:

Shoshi Hornum said...

This looks like a really interesting book! I will definitely have to check this out.