The Magician's Elephant. By Kate DiCamillo. 2009. (September 2009). Candlewick Press. 208 pages.
At the end of the century before last, in the market square of the city of Baltese, there stood a boy with a hat on his head and a coin in his hand. The boy's name was Peter Augustus Duchene, and the coin he held did not belong to him but was instead the property of his guardian, an old soldier named Vilna Lutz, who had sent the boy to the market for fish and bread.
I loved this one. I did. It's Kate DiCamillo. If you're not familiar with her children's books, you should be*. You really should be. Because she is just that good, that amazing. Will everyone find this book to be the most-amazing-book-ever, no, I'm not even sure (as much as I loved it) that I'd go that far, get that carried away. But chances are one of her books will be the right book for you, and you'll have discovered something wonderful.
In this delightful book, we meet Peter. A young boy with a few tough decisions to make. When a fortuneteller appears (out of nowhere it seems), he must decide whether to spend his guardian's coin as he should or as he could. He's tempted, you see, by this promise: The most profound and difficult questions that could possibly be posed by the human mind or heart will be answered within for the price of one florit.
It would be a very short book indeed if Peter just bought fish and bread like he was told. So it shouldn't come as a great surprise when he gives into temptation and does what he barely dares....to visit the fortuneteller to find out the answer to a question that has been haunting him for years.
"Ask me your question."But what kind of an answer is that? What elephant?! It's not like elephants are to be found on every street corner! There are no elephants in Baltese! But she tells him (the fortuneteller that is) that the truth is forever changing. What's a young boy to do? Can the unexpected happen? Is something remarkable about to happen?
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 fortune-teller. "They're 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 do I make my way there, to where she is?"
He kept his eyes closed; he waited.
"The elephant," said the fortuneteller.
"What?" Peter said. He opened his eyes, certain that he had misunderstood.
"You must follow the elephant," said the fortuneteller. "She will lead you there."
As I said, I loved this one. I thought it was beautifully told. I also enjoyed the illustrations by Yoko Tanaka.
*Because of Winn Dixie; The Tale of Despereaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and The Tiger Rising. There's also a series of books for much younger readers, Mercy Watson, but I have a feeling these wouldn't translate as oh-so-amazing for adult readers. Though I could be wrong. I *haven't* read any of these Mercy Watson books myself.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews