The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Yoko Tanaka

Because we have been taught he’ll become a vagrant if we don’t, we read to Little Julien (age 6) at bedtime every night. Mr. Julien and I alternate nights and books. Recently, I read The Magician’s Elephant by Kate Camillo to him over the course of several evenings. It is a charming children’s story about a young orphan, Peter Augustus Duchene, who lives once upon a time in a non-specific 19th century European town. Raised by his father’s decrepit military commander, his is a life of duty and training. One day while out running errands, Peter visits a fortune teller’s tent and asks if his baby sister is still alive despite what he has been told. Not only is he told that she is alive, but the seer says an elephant will lead him to her. The next thing he knows, a magician has come to town and performed a trick in which an elephant drops through the theatre ceiling onto an unsuspecting patron. Both the elephant and the magician are jailed and Peter is on his way to discovering the truth. The journey leads him to the local police, the elephant, the poor woman the elephant landed on, the poor man who cleans up after the elephant, and the rueful and amazed magician himself.

The Magician’s Elephant is a gentle and lyrical fairy tale populated with colourful characters and winsome charm. It is not twee, but rather has a subdued grace. Each of the characters has been isolated or broken in their own way as they struggle with hopes and dreams. Camillo takes time with each of them and this creates a true connection with them for the reader. There is love to be found, and surprising gifts of fate, in this magical world. Little Julien actually said, “this is a beautiful story” when we were near the end and indeed it was. Quiet and unassuming, but liberally incorporating humour, it’s a well-crafted puzzle that neatly fits all its pieces together. The illustrations are a lovely and thoughtful compliment to the story with a dreamy quality well-suited to the content.

Currently, we are reading Hamish X and the Cheese Pirates by Canadian author, and funniest human in the universe, Sean Cullen.

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