An Elephant in the Garden

An Elephant in the Garden

4.4 29
by Michael Morpurgo

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Lizzie and Karl's mother is a zoo keeper; the family has become attached to an orphaned elephant named Marlene, who will be destroyed as a precautionary measure so she and the other animals don't run wild should the zoo be hit by bombs. The family persuades the zoo director to let Marlene stay in their garden instead. When the city is bombed, the family flees with

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Lizzie and Karl's mother is a zoo keeper; the family has become attached to an orphaned elephant named Marlene, who will be destroyed as a precautionary measure so she and the other animals don't run wild should the zoo be hit by bombs. The family persuades the zoo director to let Marlene stay in their garden instead. When the city is bombed, the family flees with thousands of others, but how can they walk the same route when they have an elephant in tow, and keep themselves safe? Along the way, they meet Peter, a Canadian navigator who risks his own capture to save the family.

As Michael Morpurgo writes in an author's note, An Elephant in the Garden is inspired by historical truths, and by his admiration for elephants, "the noblest and wisest and most sensitive of all creatures." Here is a story that brings together an unlikely group of survivors whose faith in kindness and love proves the best weapon of all.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Inspired by a true story about an elephant rescued from a Belfast zoo during WWII, acclaimed British author Morpurgo (War Horse) pens a historical novel about a German family's struggle to survive as their country is torn apart. The story within a story begins with Lizzie, an aging woman in a Canadian nursing home, telling her nurse and her nurse's nine-year-old son, Karl, that she had an elephant in her garden when she was a child. In 1945 Dresden, 16-year-old Lizzie's father is serving in the war, and her zookeeper mother decides to save an elephant named Marlene from the mercy killings exacted on other animals prior to the anticipated bombings. Marlene lives in their garden, walks on leashes, and stuns neighbors until the devastating bombing of Dresden forces Lizzie, her mother, and brother on an even more surprising journey across Germany seeking safety. Morpurgo crafts a thought-provoking and perilous encounter with an enemy combatant who joins their party and eventually forges a believable romance with Lizzie. The novel's clean prose delivers a gripping and unconventional perspective on the tumultuous era. Ages 10–14. (Oct.)

Young Lizzie's story (differentiated from the framing tale by typeface change) is quick-paced and moving, and her teenage viewpoint is believable…

Readers . . . can't help but be drawn into the tale of survival told in An Elephant in the Garden, which is loosely based on a real event from World War II.

The occasional interruptions to the story build suspense and add a layer of resonance to Morpurgo's poignant and thoughtful exploration of the terrible impact of war on both sides of the fighting.
Booklist for War Horse

This searing World War I novel reveals the unspeakable slaughter of soldiers on all sides fighting against people who are just like them...the viewpoint brings close the fury of the thundering guns, the confusion, and the kindness of enemies who come together in No Man's Land to save the wounded horse.... and the terse details speak eloquently about peace.
From the Publisher

Praise for Michael Morpurgo:
VOYA - Deborah Cooper
An Elephant is the Garden tells the story of Lizzie, a fifteen-year-old girl in Dresden, Germany, during the second World War. Lizzie's father is away fighting at the front, leaving her with her mother, a zookeeper, and her asthmatic little brother. Her mother brings home a young orphaned elephant, Marlene, determined to save her. When Dresden is heavily bombed, Lizzie's family escapes with the elephant into the countryside. A Canadian pilot leads them westward toward safety, trekking hundreds of miles in freezing weather, hungry and afraid. Throughout all of their struggles it is the elephant who anchors the story. Marlene, "our inspiration", plods on as a model of courage, patience and determination. The elephant's unconditional love for everyone she meets encourages the family to keep moving. Told through a series of first-person flashbacks, Morpurgo's understated style slowly but steadily draws the reader in. While daily hardships and the actual bombing of Dresden are recounted in some detail, the story is never harrowing. The author adeptly balances Lizzie's experiences and emotions with the factual background. Librarians and educators alike will welcome this semi-factual historical title as a valuable teaching aide on the subject of war. The story ends positively and will inspire thoughtful discussion about war's impact, as well as the accompanying themes of friendship, trust, and perseverance. Although this book may lack the "hipness" and flash of other titles for this age group, the calm, steady tone is engaging, appropriate, and will appeal to a wide range of readers. Reviewer: Deborah Cooper
Children's Literature - Leigh Geiger
There is much to criticize in this adventure story which is loosely based on historical events. The writing style is plain and perfunctory. The characters are primarily underdeveloped stereotypes. Additionally, Morpurgo has a penchant for introducing events that even the youngest reader will find very difficult to believe—a family attempting to flee in secret, traveling only at night and hiding during the day, is able to bring along a huge elephant and not be noticed by the enemy. The family hides in abandoned houses and the elephant is somehow hidden nearby. Apparently the animal never makes any significant sounds and leaves no trail. Then Morpurgo, apparently forgetting about the need for quiet and secrecy, has 30 children from a choir join the family as traveling companions. They all sing constantly as they walk to keep themselves from being scared or discouraged. Miraculously no one hears them, even though they are very near the enemy. Yet, despite all its flaws, I would recommend this book as a worthwhile read, particularly for students interested in a fresh perspective on World War II's effects on Germany. This is not a Holocaust tale; this is the story of a mother and her two children, a 9-year old son and a teenage daughter, who are forced to flee their home in Dresden when the British RAF firebombed their city. If readers can get past Morpurgo's occasional suspension of reality, they will gain a deeper appreciation for the plight of Germans during the final months of the war. They will learn what it is like to be a refugee in your own country. They will see that not all Germans agreed with the Nazi regime. Reviewer: Leigh Geiger, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—The poignant recollections of 82-year-old Lizzie capture the imaginations of her listeners, a nurse and her young son, who sit in rapt attention by her nursing-home bedside. Lizzie's engaging story is seamlessly laced with historical facts about the February 1945 bombing of Dresden, zoo directives to euthanize the animals during bombings, and the desperate plight of defeated Germans caught between advancing Russian and Allied forces. Lizzie's family included her exuberant younger brother; her compassionate mother, a zookeeper for elephants; and her absentee father, who was conscripted into the German army. When the Allied forces began the infamous firebombing of Dresden, the family and her mother's beloved elephant, Marlene, fled. Joining a wave of fellow refugees, they survived, thanks to chance encounters with a downed Allied navigator whom they secretly "adopted" as a family member, and with a countess who provided a safe house for anyone in need. After the war Lizzie's parents and Lizzie and her beloved navigator were reunited. Twenty years later, Lizzie "found" Marlene performing in a traveling French circus. The elephant had not forgotten her wartime companion. This well-paced, heartwarming narrative by a master storyteller will appeal to readers on several levels-as a tale of adventure and suspense, as a commentary on human trauma and animal welfare during war, as a perspective on the hardships facing the German people in the final months of World War II, and as a tribute to the rich memories and experiences of an older generation.—Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC

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