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The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant

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Ever since he was an infant, Pigeon Jones has lived on the back of an artistically gifted white elephant named Birch. Birch is a loving father, but that doesn’t stop Pigeon from wondering about the human parents who abandoned him. Birch has dreams, too—of being a well-known artist, and of finding the acrobat he fell in love with while they performed together in a circus years ago.

And so, on Pigeon’s tenth birthday, their search for fame and lost loves ...

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The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant

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Overview

Ever since he was an infant, Pigeon Jones has lived on the back of an artistically gifted white elephant named Birch. Birch is a loving father, but that doesn’t stop Pigeon from wondering about the human parents who abandoned him. Birch has dreams, too—of being a well-known artist, and of finding the acrobat he fell in love with while they performed together in a circus years ago.

And so, on Pigeon’s tenth birthday, their search for fame and lost loves begins. Pigeon and Birch paint their way across the world, dodging an evil circus ringleader, freeing zoo animals, and befriending singing hoboes along the way. But when they reach the end of their journey, Birch must master the most difficult art of all: letting go and allowing his beloved Pigeon to stand on his own two feet.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Echoes of Babar and The Velveteen Rabbit float through Cuevas’s uneven debut about the friendship between an abandoned boy and the warmhearted elephant who becomes at once caregiver and home to him. Narrated by Pigeon Jones, whose parents, overwhelmed by the anxieties of child care, leave their infant on the steps of an orphanage, the novel moves through an array of settings, from circus life and the Bronx Zoo to Hollywood and Paris. Pigeon and Birch, a talented painter and former circus elephant unhappily working at a car wash, set off (Pigeon in his secure home atop Birch’s back) from their small town to find Birch’s long-lost love, a beautiful acrobat. Cuevas squeezes a multitude of motifs into their adventures: budding romance, true love, lost parents, and, of course, deep friendship. Laden with metaphors and philosophical bromides (“I wondered if joy, like us, is a traveler and can’t ever stay put in one place for too long”), the novel strives to be a resonant blend of wacky adventure and poignant wisdom, abetted by Young’s Thurber-y ink sketches, but never fully succeeds at either. Ages 6–12. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"A preposterous premise is the underpinning for this delightful, touching fable..."--School Library Journal
 
“This is a contemplative but entertaining tale perfect to share at bedtime or on a rainy afternoon.” --BCCB
 
“This wonderfully crafted story illustrates the difficult decision Birch must make, namely to allow his beloved Pigeon to leave and stand on his own.” --TucsonCitizen.com
 
"The unlikely combination of zany story arc, resonant illustrations, and graceful telling come together in a memorable and original offering.” --Booklist
 
"A touching, singular story of a painting elephant and the boy he lovingly fosters." --Kirkus Reviews
 
"This book is a wonderful bedtime read-aloud for parents and children to share; it is magical and true, strange and comforting, all at once."- Emily Jenkins, author of Invisible Inkling
 
“Part origin myth, part Little Prince, and part circus act, this book pulls you into its own dreamlike world, replete with hilarity, strange beauty, and a sense of life wisely observed.  Ed Young's expressive brush drawings match the writer's light touch and add a pleasure of their own.” —Paul O. Zelinsky, author/illustrator of the Caldecott Medal-winner Rapunzel

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374348540
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/11/2011
  • Pages: 144
  • Age range: 7 - 11 Years
  • Lexile: 820L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Michelle Cuevas graduated from Williams College and holds a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Virginia, where she received the Henry Hoyns Fellowship. She lives in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Ed Young is the Caldecott Award-winning illustrator and writer of many children's books. He lives in Westchester County, New York, with his two daughters.

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Read an Excerpt

The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant


By Michelle Cuevas

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Copyright © 2011 Michelle Cuevas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374348540

ONE
But He Has Such Big Ears
 

My name is Pigeon Jones, and I was raised by a painting Indian elephant. This is how my adventure started: one day when I was an infant in my crib, a pigeon flew into our house through the window. This is not, as you may be thinking, why I am named Pigeon. The bird did, however, cause my mama to become quite upset.
“Get that filthy bird out of here,” she shouted. “Don’t let it touch the baby.”
My papa didn’t see the bird at first, but he stayed calm, sat still, and whispered under his breath, “Just be quiet now. Wait till she lands.”
The pigeon was fat. And clumsy. She landed on the side of my crib and flapped her wings so hard she got tangled in the solar-system mobile overhead. Several planets went flying. Venus fell into my crib with a thud and missed my head by only a few inches.
My mama screamed, “Grab that stupid bird.”
The bird didn’t seem to mind being called stupid, and when Papa approached, she climbed onto his outstretched arm one foot at a time.
Papa put the bird on a tree branch outside the window, and that crazy bird began to sing. Loudly. And not very well.
My mama and papa came over and stared down at me. The sun filtered through the leaves on the tree and dappled the light, making continents on my skin. I wasn’t crying. In truth I was enjoying the show from my crib.
“The baby kept calm through the entire commotion,” Papa said thoughtfully. “Through the flapping and the flying and a planet almost falling on his head. I wonder if he can hear?”
“But he has such big ears,” Mama gasped. “How could anyone not hear with those enormous ears?” It was true. I had ridiculously big ears. Huge. Gigantic. They looked like someone had taken dinner plates and attached them to the sides of my head. I was, in this way, quite unlike my parents, who both had remarkably small ears. I think this made it hard for them to hear each other, so they’d end up yelling most of the time.

But the doctor confirmed that there was nothing at all wrong with my big ears. My papa got more and more interested in the way the world looked and sounded to me, such a calm and unconcerned baby. Every time he heard or saw something interesting, he’d say, “I wonder how the baby”—they hadn’t yet given me a name—“would sense that?” and write it down. He had long lists all over the house describing things like how it sounds when someone steps on dry leaves or when a dog laps water or the unexpected noise when a child’s toy drops in the next room. His plan was to ask me all these things as soon as I was old enough to talk. Of course, as with many plans in life, by the time I could talk, most of the lists would have turned yellow and been forgotten.
And if you think my papa sounds a bit strange, then you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting my mama. After I was born she became possessed by a heart-racing, hand-wringing sense of worry that something awful might befall me.
“He’ll get eaten by a tiger,” she’d cry. “Or hit by a bus. I just know it.” She had daily panic attacks and would have to put her head between her legs and breathe into a paper bag.
She worried and worried, until one day, overcome by tears, she was sent to bed for an indefinite amount of time by the doctor.
“Perhaps there is someone to help you care for the baby,” the doctor suggested.
“I suppose we have no other option,” Papa said sadly. “We must do this for the baby’s sake.” And so, that very night, my mama and papa tucked me into a basket, placed me on the steps of an orphanage, and left town, never to return. Attached to my blanket was a note that read:
PLEASE GIVE ME A HOME.
(AND, IF IT IS NOT TOO MUCH TROUBLE, A NAME.)
LOVE,
THE BABY

 
Text copyright © 2011 by Michelle Cuevas


Continues...

Excerpted from The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant by Michelle Cuevas Copyright © 2011 by Michelle Cuevas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2012

    I read this book to my 2nd grade class and they were enthralled

    I read this book to my 2nd grade class and they were enthralled from beginning to end!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2012

    Love

    I read this book in my bbya club and loved it.i recoomend to 9-12 year olds

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  • Posted October 10, 2011

    So good I stole it from my nephew

    I am ashamed. My 10-year old nephew got an advanced copy of this book from his parents' "literary" friends. Last weekend I was visiting and the bright blue cover caught my eye. I flipped it open and started skimming through this supposed "children's" book. Breathtaking. I loved everything about it. The beautiful writing made the whole experience feel like a dance across the pages. I will give it back to my nephew eventually, but I think I will read it a few more times first.

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