Friday, January 1, 2010

Review: The Magician's Elephant

The Magician’s Elephant
By Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka
Ages 9-12

I hold to the belief that what a story means (as in message) is less important than how it makes the reader feel. After all, a well-crafted story can mean many things to many people. However, in the case of Kate DiCamillo’s The Magician's Elephant, meaning and magic unite to create a mystical sensation of wonder, love and possibility beyond everyday imagination. It’s an emotionally evocative, fairy tale journey for the reader.

Weird and wonderful characters populate this mystical world in which the inexplicable appearance of an elephant weaves together the lives and aspirations of people seeking love and a sense of belonging.

One of the reasons I fell in love with this mesmerizing tale of a boy’s quest to find the sister he never knew is because of its language—the poetic repetition and building of speech patterns, such as the following instructions by the feverishly delusional soldier, Vilna Lutz ,to his ward, Peter Duchene:
“You must ask the fishmonger for two fish and no more….Ask him for the smallest ones. Ask him for the fish that others would turn away. Why, you must ask him for those fish that other fish are embarrassed to even refer to as fish!”
Even the elephant has his own special syntax, which is so very elephanty it feels utterly authentic.

To cap it off, the narrative is brought to luminous life by Yoko Tanaka’s illustrations. As with the words, the images evoke an emotionally resonant tale.

Simply put, The Magician’s Elephant is miraculous.