Book Review

The Magician’s Elephant

By Marcia Okun and Aryeh Lieberman
Published: December 2009

Marcia Okun & Aryeh Lieberman
The Magician’s Elephant
By Katie DiCamillo
Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

Both my 12 year old and I read DiCamillo’s latest book, a fairy tale like book about possibility and “what if? 

This book is about an Elephant that falls through the roof of an Opera House conjured by a magician. The Elephant changes the lives of many people. One of the people whose life it changes is a young ten year old boy named Peter, an orphan being raised by an old, cranky soldier who makes the boy march all day and talks about training Peter to be a soldier. 

At the beginning of the book we meet Peter as he decides to visit a fortuneteller and ask if his baby sister is alive.

Being told that his sister is alive and that an Elephant will lead him to her leads Peter to question his existence, the nature of truth, and to reflect on what he has lost’€his parents. In the end, Peter finds his sister and together they find happiness and live with Peter’s neighbors, a policeman and his wife, who are willing to ask “what if and love and cherish them.

There are several other people whose lives are changed by the arrival of the Elephant, both for better and worse.

One of those affected is the magician who conjured the Elephant.

He had not meant to conjure an Elephant; he had meant to conjure lilies. At least that is what he continually says, until he is finally implored to say what he really means. With a subtle touch DiCamillo illustrates how few people really say what they mean and, as in the case of the magician, really do mean what they do, even if they do not recognize that fact. 

Aryeh did not like the book. It did not seem focused enough, having many threads that were brought together at the end in a somewhat contrived manner. In general, it did not go into a lot of detail about anything, or went into background detail too much.

Many aspects of the book seemed two-dimensional, the characters especially seemed two- dimensional.

At the end, the conflict was resolved too easily, the main characters just took the Elephant and walked down the street to the magician, who finally realized that returning the elephant would be a greater magic than what he had already done.

While the morals of this story are solid and ones that any mother would approve, the boy, Peter, was not developed enough for Aryeh to relate to or care strongly about what would happen, partially because there were few real impediments and no real tension.

It was a story of waiting and hoping until the stars aligned, it snowed, and people decided to accept the impossible.

After all, if an Elephant can fall out of nowhere through the roof of an Opera house, what else can happen?

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