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The Magician's Elephant

The Magician's Elephant

3.9 333
by Kate DiCamillo, Yoko Tanaka (Illustrator)

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A classic tale by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo, America's beloved storyteller

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


A classic tale by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo, America's beloved storyteller

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. With atmospheric illustrations by fine artist Yoko Tanaka, here is a dreamlike and captivating tale that could only be narrated by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. In this timeless fable, she evokes the largest of themes — hope and belonging, desire and compassion — with the lightness of a magician’s touch.
With dreamlike illustrations and a new cover by Yoko Tanaka.

Editorial Reviews

When a fortuneteller sets up shop in the market square of Baltese, one earnest young man is among her first customers. Peter Augustus Duchene doesn't dawdle over his romantic future or his past lives; he wants to know whether his sister lives and, if so, can he bring her safety. The fortuneteller's answers are puzzling. She assures him that an elephant will lead him to his beloved lost sibling, a promise that leaves him waiting for a solution that might not come. An absorbing story about hope and persistence by the Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. Now in paperback and NOOKbook.

Mary Quattlebaum
Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo tells a timeless tale as "strange and lovely and promising" as her title character. The occasional illustrations, too, are dreamlike and magical. In delicate shades of gray, Yoko Tanaka's acrylics convey the city's low wintry light and the mood of a place haunted by a recent, unnamed war. With its rhythmic sentences and fairy-tale tone, this novel yields solitary pleasures but begs to be read aloud. Hearing it in a shared space can connect us, one to one, regardless of age, much like the book's closing image: a small stone carving, hands linked, of the elephant's friends.
—The Washington Post
Adam Gopnik
DiCamillo writes here in a register entirely her own, catching not the whimsical-fabulous note of earlier masters for young readers, nor the jokey-realistic one that has too often taken its place, but instead a mood of sober magic that unfolds into something that can be called, without pejorative, "sentimental," meaning straightforward and heartfelt. The style may evoke Calvino, but the substance belongs to Christmas…the magic of DiCamillo's stories is that while they have the dignity of literature, they're never unduly "literary." Young readers are caught up in the fable before they know they are being fabulized at, trapped in the poetry of the allegory without any idea that allegories are set as traps by authors.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In DiCamillo's fifth novel, a clairvoyant tells 10-year-old Peter, an orphan living with a brain-addled ex-soldier, that an elephant will lead him to his sister, who the ex-soldier claims died at birth. The fortuneteller's prediction seems cruelly preposterous as there are no pachyderms anywhere near Baltese, a vaguely eastern European city enduring a bitter winter. Then that night at the opera house, a magician “of advanced years and failing reputation” attempts to conjure a bouquet of lilies but instead produces an elephant that crashes through the ceiling. Peter learns that both magician and beast have been jailed, and upon first glimpse of the imprisoned elephant, Peter realizes that his fate and the elephant's are linked. The mannered prose and Tanaka's delicate, darkly hued paintings give the story a somber and old-fashioned feel. The absurdist elements—street vendors peddle chunks of the now-infamous opera house ceiling with the cry “Possess the plaster of disaster!”—leaven the overall seriousness, and there is a happy if predictable ending for the eccentric cast of anguished characters, each finding something to make them whole. Ages 8–13. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - K. Meghan Robertson
From the author of The Tale of Despereaux comes this fantasy about a little ten-year old orphan named Peter Augustus Duchene. Peter lives with an old soldier named Vilna Lutz who trains Peter in military skills while simultaneously going crazy. Peter's life begins to change when he takes a risk. He spends the one coin Vilna Lutz gave him to spend at the market on a fortuneteller's reading. Peter longs to know about his family. Although his parents are deceased, the fortuneteller alerts him that his sister Adele lives. Peter has been told she was dead at birth. Peter is delighted and shocked and doubtful, particularly when the fortuneteller says Peter can find Adele by following the elephant. He says, "There are no elephants here," to which the teller responds, "That is surely the truth, at least for now. But perhaps you have noticed: the truth is forever changing." With that new understanding of life, Peter goes home. All is well for the people in Baltese—right up until a magician produces an elephant through the roof of the opera house when trying to create a bouquet! When this news reaches Peter, he journeys to find the elephant, which has been bought and housed by the Countess so she can return to the center of everyone's attention. Follow Peter as he seeks Adele. Discover the power of hope and imagination. Reviewer: K. Meghan Robertson
VOYA - Pam Carlson
I intended only lilies. In a small 1890-something European village, an anonymous traveling magician changes lives forever when a simple trick goes tragically wrong. Instead of lovely flowers, a full-grown elephant falls through the ceiling of the theater, landing on a woman and crushing her legs. At almost the same moment, young Peter hears from a fortuneteller that Adele, the sister he had been told was dead is actually alive and that an elephant would reunite them. DiCamillo entrances her audience with a group of quaint characters to accompany Peter and Adele on their journey back to one another—a crippled carver of gargoyles, an embittered soldier, a childless policeman and his wife, and a noblewoman who insists on housing the elephant in her ballroom. Each plays a valuable role in the others' lives as individual answers to the question, "What if?" become clear. Tanaka's pencil illustrations in shades of gray portray the characters as stiff and angular, almost marionette-like in appearance, they but are an oddly agreeable match for the fantastical events. Thoughtful readers will feel a quiet satisfaction with this almost dainty tale of impossible happenings. Reviewer: Pam Carlson
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—On a perfectly ordinary day, Peter Augustus Duchene goes to the market square of the city of Baltese. Instead of buying the fish and bread that his guardian, Vilna Lutz, has asked him to procure, he uses the coin to pay a fortune-teller to get information about his sister, whom he believes to be dead. He is told that she is alive, and that an elephant will lead him to her. That very night at a performance in the town's opera house, a magician conjures up an elephant (by mistake) that crashes through the roof and cripples the society dame she happens to land on. The lives of the boy, his guardian, and the local policeman, along with the magician and his unfortunate victim, as well as a beggar, his dog, a sculptor, and a nun all intertwine in a series of events triggered by the appearance of the elephant. Miraculous events resolve not only the mystery of the whereabouts of Peter's sister, but also the deeper needs of all of the individuals involved. DiCamillo's carefully crafted prose creates an evocative aura of timelessness for a story that is, in fact, timeless. Tanaka's acrylic artwork is meticulous in detail and aptly matches the tone of the narrative. This is a book that demands to be read aloud.—Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO
Kirkus Reviews
Ten-year-old Peter Augustus Duchene goes to the market for fish and bread but spends it at the fortuneteller's tent instead. Seeking his long-lost sister, Peter is told, "You must follow the elephant. She will lead you there." And that very night at the Bliffenendorf Opera House, a magician's spell goes awry, conjuring an elephant that crashes through the ceiling and lands on Madam Bettine LaVaughn. Reading like a fable told long ago, with rich language that begs to be read aloud, this is a magical story about hope and love, loss and home, and of questioning the world versus accepting it as it is. Brilliant imagery juxtaposes "glowering and resentful" gargoyles and snow, stars and the glowing earth, and Tanaka's illustrations (not all seen) bring to life the city and characters from "the end of the century before last." A quieter volume than The Tale of Despereaux (2003) and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2006), this has an equal power to haunt readers long past the final page. (Fantasy. 8-13)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Peter stood in the small patch of light making its sullen way through the open flap of the tent. He let the fortuneteller take his hand. She examined it closely, moving her eyes back and forth and back and forth, as if there a whole host of very small words inscribed there, an entire book about Peter Augustus Duchene composed atop his palm.

"Huh," she said at last. She dropped his hand and squinted up at his face. "But, of course, you are just a boy."

"I am ten years old," said Peter. He took the hat from his head and stood as straight and tall as he was able. "And I am training to become a soldier, brave and true. But it does not matter how old I am. You took the florit, so now you must give me my answer."

"A soldier brave and true?" said the fortuneteller. She laughed and spat on the ground. "Very well, soldier brave and true, if you say it is so, then it is so. Ask me your question."

Peter felt a small stab of fear. What if after all this time he could not bear the truth? What if he did not really want to know?

"Speak," said the fortuneteller. "Ask."

"My parents," said Peter.

"That is your question?" said the fortuneteller. "They are dead."

Peter's hands trembled. "That is not my question," he said. "I know that already. You must tell me something that I do not know. You must tell me of another — you must tell me . . ."

The fortuneteller narrowed her eyes. "Ah," she said. "Her? Your sister? That is your question? Very well. She lives."

Peter's heart seized upon the words. She lives. She lives!

"No, please," said Peter. He closed his eyes. He concentrated. "If she lives, then I must find her, so my question is, how I do I make my way there, to where she is?"

He kept his eyes closed; he waited.

"The elephant," said the fortuneteller.

"What?" he said. He opened his eyes, certain that he had misunderstood.

"You must follow the elephant," said the fortuneteller, "she will lead you there."

Meet the Author

Kate DiCamillo is the author of THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, which was awarded the Newbery Medal; THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, winner of a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award; BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, a Newbery Honor winner; THE TIGER RISING, a National Book Award Finalist; the picture book GREAT JOY; and five books starring Mercy Watson, including a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book. She lives in Minneapolis.

Yoko Tanaka is a graduate of the Art Center College in Pasadena, California. She is the illustrator of THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENTS OF CHAOS by R. L. LaFevers, and SPARROW GIRL by Sara Pennypacker. Yoko Tanaka lives in Los Angeles and Bangkok.

Brief Biography

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date of Birth:
March 25, 1964
Place of Birth:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
B.A. in English, University of Florida at Gainesville, 1987

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The Magician's Elephant 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 332 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Magician's Elephant By: Kate Dicamillo Peter is just trying to get the answer to the simple question, "Does she live?" What Peter does not know is that this one question will lead him on a search for his missing sister. His mom trusted him to keep his sister safe but the he had to let her go. On an errand he found a fortuneteller and asked her. The fortuneteller said to follow the elephant. Then when an unexpected visitor comes to town, peter figures out the way. The suspenseful chapters make you feel like you cannot put the book down. The clever descriptions draw a very clear picture in your mind. It is easy to see the gloomy snow covered days that spread across the town day after day and the beggar with his black dog Iddo. The elephant, magician, and Madam La Vaughn, all play very important rolls to help tell the reader that you can trust others. All these characters join together to help the elephant go home and Peter find his sister. It was very difficult for Madam to help and join with the magician that crippled her legs. What does she choose? (Published by candlewick press, copyright 2009) Recommended for ages 7 - 12
greekmeee More than 1 year ago
i loved this book i read it like 10 times lol i loved the tale of desperaux so i thought "hey i guess i will read this one too" well good thing i did haha. i think this book is good for ppl at the ages of about 7 to 11 0r 12
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kate DiCamillo has written another outstanding book! The Magician's Elephant is a story about hope, belonging, and forgiveness. One can easily identify with each character in her book and their struggles in life! A little boy longs to find his "lost" sister and to belong to someone and be loved. A childless couple longs to have children. A magician longs to be recognized and noticed for extraordinary magic. An elephant who is "homesick" longs to return home. All of us want to feel loved, noticed, and that we "belong" to someone. This is what makes us human. Kate DiCamillo not only appeals to children, but to adults as well. This book was a page turner and I read it in one day!
Christopher_C More than 1 year ago
Kate DiCamillo's newest novel the Magician's Elephant is a hauntingly beautiful tale with rich characters that focus on hope and making the impossible possible. The mood lavishly set with DiCamillo's writing style and Yoko Tanaka's brilliant illustrations. Young Peter lives with an old soldier that knew his father when they were in battle together. When sent to the market to get bread and fish, Peter uses his only money to ask a fortuneteller if his sister is still alive. He receives a mysterious answer about following an elephant and is shocked to later discover an elephant was conjured up accidentally by a magician during his recent performance. With the help of a policeman named Leo, Peter sets out to rescue the elephant and find is sister
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How many pages is this book? Someone please answer :)
Annibebe More than 1 year ago
This book was entertaining, but at first, I thought I might not like it - there was no introduction to the characters - they just came alive with a big bang. Not as good as The Tale of Despereaux", but still good reading.
JennJR More than 1 year ago
I bought two copies of this book and liked almost as much as the nine year old I bought it for. This book is not only good to help bridge learning vocabulary and reading vocabulary, but the story in itself is great for everyone in the family. I've actually recommended this book to my adult friends to read.
Lindsey_Miller More than 1 year ago
As always, DiCamillo introduces her readers to a beautiful world full of interesting characters. Not quite the allegorical social commentary of The Tale of Despereaux, The Magician's Elephant is still an engaging journey through what seems to be a small European town at the turn of the century. The magic is not an end to itself, but rather is the catalyst in bringing about a chain of events that cause various characters to shift from their comfort zones and move onto something greater. In this way, DiCamillo is subtle, but powerful, and it can be both a fun book for younger readers as well as a book with multiple layers for older ones. I recommend this book to all readers 8+. -Lindsey Miller, www.lindseyslibrary.com
Jenny More than 1 year ago
A heartfelt, timeless fable about the power of wonder and the magic of "What if?". DiCamillo's been working in the style of faux fairytale since Desperaux, and the lessons she's learned in her previous books help here: she keeps it short, sweet, and to the point. I feel, as the people of Baltese say, as though I were in the presence of the elephant.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book when i was in 5th grade and it was a good read. Although i think that a 6th grader would enjoy the book more. It can be a little slow at first but once one gets into the story it is difficult to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Funny and a very high vocabulary(6th grade) good book for teachers to read to their students
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a really good!!! Recommend that 4-6 grade read it...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The rhythm of the writing, the intertwining of the plots lines, the artistry of it all -- just a beautiful book in a classic oral storytelling style. One of my all time favorites.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kate DiCamillo stories never disappoint. I love them all!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read three other kKate DicCammilo books and totally loved and gave them a thumbs up! I have added this book to my wishlist and hope to read it soon. I have never thought anout a favorite author but DiCamillo has outdone herself on other books and i think this book will also be great i think she might be my favorite author she has talent and i enjoy every word in her books!!!!!!!!!! This book i think is a wonderfull fantabulous must read book!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good but so not worth the money it is only 89 pages of pure boring I suggest you to read instead harry potter
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is great i think you should buy it read it 2 times you should buy it great for 10 and up it is SOOO!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great & hard to put down. I liked it a lot!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ya pretty good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow, I never thought it wwould be this good. I read it day in and day out ebery spare moment. Im really getting into it.