The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

“‘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.’

Peter’s heart, which had risen up high inside of him, now sank slowly back to its normal resting place.  He put his hat on his head.  ‘You are having fun with me,’ he said.  ‘There are no elephants here.’

‘Just as you say,’ said the fortuneteller.

‘That is surely the truth, at least for now. But perhaps you have not noticed: the truth is forever changing.’

Before the coldest of the grayest winters the city has ever seen, Peter approaches the mysterious fortuneteller with trepidation.  He knows he is an orphan, but…but he remembers a baby crying, a sister.  Is she still alive, he wants to know?  If she is, how can he find her?

The fortuneteller’s answer seems unbelievable: where would Peter find an elephant, anyway? However, with the scrap of hope and a fortuneteller’s cryptic message, Peter embarks on an adventure that will not only change an entire city, but also bring him the family he longs for.

I was a terrifically anxious child. We’re talking escaping-from-kindergarten-on-foot-to-avoid-standardized-testing, elaborate-separation-rituals-including-begging-and-possibly-vomiting, germ-phobic-before-hand-sanitizer-was-a-thing kind of nervous.  It wasn’t pretty, friends, and the calmest moments of my childhood were when my parents or teachers read out loud to me.  For that reason, I am on a perpetual quest for The Perfect Sharing Read-Alouds: those books that are interesting to both adults and little ones, with the stories full of things to prepare you to face the world. Since they are bedtime books, a soothing quality is important.  Funny is definitely a plus.  Illustrations? Absolutely.

I’m pleased to tell you that The Magician’s Elephant is possibly one of the most perfect books for sharing.  A fortuneteller whose tent appears one day and is gone the next? A long-lost sister? An orphanage whose door is always guarded by a nun, waiting to welcome all that are lost? A magician who has just accomplished the most stunning bit of magic of his life?  A bewildered elephant?! Yes, oh yes.  And while the plot elements and characters are creative and wonderful in themselves, the illustrations and tone combine to form a story about love and families and bravery that will break your heart, it’s so pretty.

The author, Kate DiCamillo, says this about her book: “I wanted. I needed. I longed to tell a story of love and magic.  Peter, Adele, the magician, the elephant-all the characters in this book are the result of that longing.  I hope that you, the reader, find some love and magic here.” I did! I think you will, too.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.katedicamillo.com

DiCamillo, Kate. The Magician’s Elephant. Candlewick: Somerville, 2009. 201 pp. Ages 8 and up.

Would you like to know what other books are on my Sharing List?

The Hobbit

Toys Go Out

The Neverending Story

The Adventures of Hugo Cabret 

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Phantom Tollbooth

I’d love to hear your suggestions!  What books are you sharing?

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

“I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.  The first of these came as a terrible shock, and like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.  Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather, Abraham Portman.”

When Jacob was young, his grandfather told him many stories: stories of how he was chased by monsters out of Poland, how he took shelter on an island, at a home for children, in a place full of gardens and streams and sheep and safety. The children at the shelter had unusual skills: a levitating girl, an invisible boy, a young woman who could control fire.  Abe even had a box of photographs from those days. Jacob had seen them so many times, that he felt as if he knew them personally. Eventually, he grew too old for his grandfather’s stories,  and stopped believing.
When his grandfather is killed one night, and dies raving about monsters and begging Jacob to carry a cryptic message for him, Jacob is shattered.  Attempting to fulfill his grandfather’s final wishes leads him to a tiny island off the coast of England, where he finally finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. And something horrifying, called wights, and their further horrifying counterparts, hollowgasts.  If you know anything about the myth of the wendigo , they will sound familiar to you.  Either way, Jacob grandfather was fully justified in his terror of the creatures.
The best part of this story is the creative format. Ransom Riggs integrates eerie old photographs into this story seamlessly.  You’ll be reading along about a character, and then turn the page, and there it is: a crying boy in a bunny costume, beautifully dressed twin girls who are ominously faced away from the camera,  a young boy with a monocle. The best part is that they are absolutely real photos, which makes them even creepier. They contribute to the melancholy, supernatural tone of the story.
After reading some reviews, I found that some people didn’t necessarily know how to respond to the between-genre feel of this book.  Is it written for adults? Is it YA lit? Is it science fiction? Light horror?  Personally, I think it is a little of all of the above, and I really like that.  The genre-crossing gives it a very unique feeling.  I loved the atmosphere of this book.  It feels like part X-men, part science fiction, part ghost story, part graphic novel (because of the photographs), and part war story.  It made me very happy for 24 hours!
If this one sounds good, you might like these, too:
Happy Reading!
Author’s website: http://www.ransomriggs.com (He says a sequel is coming!)
Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Quirk Books: Philadelphia, 2011. 348 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

“Hugo quickly realized he had to make it seem like his uncle was still around.  He would keep the clocks running as precisely as possible, and he’d take his uncle’s paychecks from the office when no one was looking (although he didn’t know how to cash them).  Most of all, Hugo would do his best to remain invisible.”

Hugo is a twelve-year old orphan, taken in my his alcoholic uncle, who looks after the clocks in a Paris train station.  When his uncle disappears, Hugo is afraid that if he is discovered, he will be taken to the orphanage…and he can’t bear that, because it would mean giving up on his mystery, the only thing left from his father:  the automaton, a wind-up clockwork robot with a secret inside.

Hugo’s father died in a museum fire, but he left a legacy for Hugo.  He was restoring a battered automaton, a clockwork machine that looks like a human, who carries a secret message inside.  It is an old-fashioned robot that can actually write!   If Hugo can repair it, he can see what message the automaton hides inside.

The story is complicated by a young girl, a mystery about old movies, a heart-shaped key, and a secret drawing.  It unfolds partly in prose, and partly in beautiful, intricate pencil drawings.  I could really stare at these illustrations forever.  So, the story is rich with atmosphere: the drawings evoke a feeling of old-time black and white movies.  The hand illustrations are interspersed with prints from actual old movies, which really add to the effect (and the mystery).

This is a wonderful sharing story, and I think is especially suited to younger readers, or the reluctant reader crowd.   It’s a heady accomplishment: finishing a 500 + page book, but with the combination of the mystery (what message is trapped in the broken automaton?  Who is Georges Melies, anyway?  What does all this have to do with old films? What is going to happen to Hugo?) and the beautiful illustrations, the story flies by.  This is the second time I’ve read it, and each time, I find myself wishing I could just move into the story for a little bit, and look at Paris at night through the back of the clock tower, like Hugo does.

Happy Reading!

Book website: http://www.theinventionofhugocabret.com/index.htm

Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret. New York, Scholastic: 2007.  533 pp, ages 8 and up. ISBN: 978-0439813785

If you liked this book, I think you will also like Shaun Tan’s graphic novel, The Arrival, or Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  If you want to read more by the same author, try The Houdini Box.