The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo


Happy Birthday Kate DiCamillo! I discovered Kate DiCamillo a couple of years ago and I have fallen in love with her work and with her words. A couple of DiCamillo’s books have been made into films, the first being Because of Winn-Dixie, the other The Tale of Desperaux; great books, but both of which I offer the ‘Better Than the Movie‘ guy.

Now, I have gushed in the past about DiCamillo’s skills as a writer, I think so much of what she has written has been so eloquently described, beautiful in description, and heart warming in terms of story. One of my first blog posts was a review of her gorgeous story The Tale of Desperaux, which also made it into my Top Five of 2012. DiCamillo once said “I decided a long time ago that I didn’t have to be talented. I just had to be persistent.” I would disagree with her and say that she has got a talent, and for someone that has the ability to write such beauty with such simplistic tools and environments, she manages to make even the smallest aspects of life magical and terribly profound; you only have to read Despereaux or Edward Tulane to see that. Today, in honour of her birthday, I am posting the review of another of her works that I thought was very touching: The Magician’s Elephant.

Published: September 8th 2009
Goodreads badgePublisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 201
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction/Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars


What if? Why not? Could it be?

When a fortuneteller’s tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortuneteller’s mysterious answer (an elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true.

This is the story of Peter Augustus Duchene, a ten year old who went to a fortune teller and made magic happen. Peter’s story is as an orphan in the care of a soldier, looking for answers and wishing for miracles. When miracles begin to happen it is the start of something extraordinary.

The magician’s elephant is unintentional and yet her arrival is one of great joy for Peter, if only he knew what to do about it. The magician himself is an interesting character in the story, he plays such a large role yet he is limited as well. So much of his story is unknown, yet what we see of him is his remorse and his confusion about his actions. I think that for him we do not need a glamorous and detailed back story, for me I think watching him reflect and deal with the aftermath of his magic gave a beautiful insight into who he was as a person.

Behind Peter’s storyline of looking for answers and discovering truths is the strange relationship between the magician and Madam LaVaughn, as well as many others in the city. All the characters in this story have their own sense of magic about them that make the so likeable, even those who do not possibly deserve it at first glance. DiCamillo manages to give them histories and depth in so few words, it really is amazing. There are connections between these characters and you feel connected to each no matter how fleeting they appear.

There are some great quotes in this book, some are very beautiful and touching, but there are funny ones as well, one favourite was “Is the child having some hat related fit?” Little things like that make characters come alive and add that little something extra to a story. It isn’t probably needed, but that what makes them so great.

I thought this book was not as emotionally profound as her previous books like Despereaux or Edward Tulane but it still managed to be heartfelt and beautiful nonetheless. DiCamillo’s books always show that she is such an eloquent write. So many of her books are filled with such simple scenes and characters, yet they are somehow also filled with such depth and beauty. It is superb.

The ending is magical and we are given answers to the questions in the same way we are not given answers. This is ideal because we can take what we can from it ourselves. There is a lot in this book about humanity and how we see the world, but also about kindness to one another. There is also a lot of emotion displayed on the surface of this story that makes it wonderful, it does not always need to go any deeper than that. A very special story that reveals humanity at its best and with its failings I think. Such a small snippet of human life, such a seemingly innocent action, told like it had the importance and magic of the world. After all, the magician “had intended lilies; yes, perhaps. But he had also wanted to perform true magic. He had succeeded.”

As I leave you with these thoughts on this fine Monday morning, I offer you something else. I discovered last night, as I snooped around the interweb until all hours of the morning, that Reading Rockets has posted snippets of an interview with DiCamillo that is really interesting to watch; she talks about becoming a writer, her novels, and she offers advice to new writers. It is always interesting to listen to authors in interviews; some offer the same advice, some recall their hardships into publishing, but somehow, no matter how many versions of ‘to write you must read’ you hear, it is always comforting to get that little bit extra motivation to follow in the footsteps of those writers you adore.

The link to this interview is below, watch it, enjoy it, then ignore the socially imposed unhappiness of Mondays and read something spectacular.

Reading Rockets interview with Kate Dicamillo.

The Tale of Despereaux by Katie DiCamillo

Published: September 9th 2008
Goodreads badgePublisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 272
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 stars

Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out. 

I was not expecting this story. I knew the name but I didn’t know why, and I had read another of DiCamillo’s books (Because of Winn-Dixie) so I gave her a go. This is the story of a very little mouse called Desperaux, as well as a rat born into darkness and a girl with a simple, impossible wish. These three along with a castle of characters is the start of a heartfelt but sometimes saddening tale.

The beginning sets you up in a very odd way around Desperaux and his family, and introduces us to the mouse world in an old castle. But then just as you get settled DiCamillo changes our focus elsewhere and we see the start of another story. This continues through the story and it is really clever. It shows the different lives of everyone involved and how one small action can cause such a big reaction.

There are simple realities and small brutalities but nothing over the top, unless you think too much about it. But DiCamillo doesn’t make you pity any one too much. She offers small things that balance out the bad and takes a characters own pity away so you lessen your own, and what these characters offer, especially those in the wrong, provide small glimmers of forgiveness.

This is a great read, it shows how understanding can be a powerful force but also how desperation can create terrible consequences.

I am borrowing this image from because I think this needs to become a constant in a lot of reviews.


Top Five of 2012

As I wrote that heading I felt a little disappointed it couldn’t be Top Five 2005 just so I could get it to rhyme. Ah the things I think of. Anyway, I thought since we are still establishing ourselves, and being the new year and all, I would do a list of my favourite books of last year. These were the kinds of books that were completely unexpected. They managed to get me excited, engaged, emotional and some were extremely heartwarming, unexpectedly so too I might add. I have only picked five because I think ten takes away the beauty and the purpose because really, ten is more for ‘Top Authors’ or ‘Favourite Characters’ something that can have multiple entrants that don’t really matter where they’re placed. I say that knowing it is undoubtedly untrue and when I can think of ten Favourite Characters I adore I’ll probably make my own list. But we can’t let facts and truth get in the way of my point.

Let’s do this from 5 to 1 shall we.

5. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I will say that seeing the 2011 film of the same name made me want to read this book. I was a little taken back by the thickness but as soon as I turned to page one it didn’t matter. The beauty of the book was echoed in the film if that is any indication to go by.

4. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Straight off the bat, please do not judge this book by its movie. I beg you. I found this book and picked it because I thought the title looked familiar. Once I had finished and fell in love with it I searched and found the movie. I only got past a few seconds of the trailer before I turned it off. This book has such heart and soul entwined into it I knew the movie was not going to show that at all. And despite DiCamillo not making the list again I insist you read her other books as well, they are just as touching I promise.

3. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

I had this book recommended to me by a friend and I am so glad that she did. This book was filled with humour, with intrigue, it shows a side to reading and to literature I have never even thought about before. It became great inspiration for some story ideas certainly. I had not come across something like this before and now I will admit I am addicted to Fforde and his writing, and whatever series he dangles in front of me to read.

2. The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

This was another chance discovery that paid off. I have discovered anything with Book or Library in the title is going on my to read list. This one certainly did not disappoint. I had not read anything like this before and I have to say it has me searching out more crime/thriller type novels. It is not heavy with detail and deep with the mystery but it does keep you guessing and it was definitely one I could not put down; I lugged it everywhere until I had finished.

1. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

I am extremely aware that I have not shut up about this book since I finished it. I apologise to everyone who has had to listen to me gush about this book but it was 100% worth it. I was so enthralled and moved and overwhelmed by this book as soon as I had finished I wrote to Mr Connolly telling him how fantastic I found his book. I implore you all to find this book and read it. Once again I found it on a fluke in the library and I am unbelievably glad I did. I am now on a hunt to track down his other titles from the very beginning including his Charlie Parker series. Fingers crossed they are just as brilliant.