[The Magician’s Elephant]: A Review

It’s a lazy Saturday night at our house watching college football and snacking on homemade cookies. Life is good in Texas 🙂

I am here tonight with a review of a neat little book tonight: The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo. I happened upon this book on Goodreads a few weeks ago. It caught my attention because of the cover and the elephant. Elephants have been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember. I have only read one book by DiCamillo before–The Tale of Despereaux and I remember it having such a rich plot with brilliant characters.

If I had to describe this novel in one word, it would be storytelling. DiCamillo has such a gift for creating beautiful stories. They aren’t long; they aren’t complicated; but they are memorable.

Initial thoughts:

  • For me, this novel was a change in pace from my usual genres. I enjoyed the lighter tone and easier read.
  • I want to read DiCamillo’s books with my children one day. They are so accessible for young readers.
  • I love the illustrations in this book. The illustrator is different than The Tale of Despereaux but they have the same feel to them.


The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo is the story of a journey for many people and one elephant. It is primarily the journey of Peter Augustus Dechene who discovers his sister is actually alive and he will find her by follow an elephant. But there isn’t an elephant in the city of Baltese. At least, there isn’t one until a magician conjures one up through the opera house roof onto a noblewoman’s lap. That begins a beautiful adventure involving a policeman, the magician, Peter, his sister Adele, and the elephant. Peter begins his search for Adele with his neighbor the philosophizing policeman. Adele dreams of the elephant. And the elephant dreams of home. Each wants to change their world. And each can only do that will a little magic.

In thinking about which character I enjoyed the most, I realized we don’t actually know much about any of the characters. The story begins in medias res (in the middle of the story) and the focus is more on the plot rather than characters. Yes, we learn a few details about each of them. But no one really stands out. I enjoy them all but I also enjoy stronger character development. For me, it was a bit lacking in character development. That’s not to say that I thought the characters were weak or flat. I just liked them so much that I wanted to learn more about them.  I would be interested in learning more about Peter’s childhood, Leo’s experience as a police officer, and the background on the magician.

One of the strongest elements of this novel was the storytelling. Again, I think DiCamillo is one of the best children’s storytellers right now. This story is captivating and exciting. It draws readers in so easily. Perhaps the short length helped, but I never felt the story lag. Every scene felt important because it would give us an important detail to the overall story. The tone was almost mesmerizing. From the first page, I believed in magic. I believed in Peter’s quest. And somehow, I knew magic would change everything.

I also enjoyed the different perspectives in the novel. The limited omniscient narrator surprised me. I thought we would just stay in Peter’s head through the entire novel. But I really enjoy when we get inside the heads of multiple characters. This novel was different than many because DiCamillo seems to use different perspectives as means to build the overall plot. And I think she does it well. My favorite perspective was the elephant’s. It was really neat to get insider her head–in fact, I would have liked to get even more from her.

This novel has added depth because it tackles profound themes like what is truth? What if we tried to change the world? And do you believe in magic? Such fun ideas to think about!

I think some potential answers to these questions are best found in the novel itself. Some of my favorite quotes from the book tackle these questions.

Truth is such a difficult idea to define in any novel, let alone a children’s book. But I love this simple line from early in the book.

“The truth is forever changing.”

The Magician’s Elephant, page 7

Leo is potentially my favorite character because he dares to see the world in a different way. I love this exchange he has with the magician.

“[The magician said] “‘What if?’ is a question that belongs to magic.” “Yes,” said Leo, “to magic and also to the world in which we live everyday. So: what if? What if you merely tried?”

The Magician’s Elephant, page 151

I have always loved magic and stories that incorporate it. There are the obvious favorites like Harry Potter, but I also enjoy stories that give us magic in a new way. I love this quote from the magician.

“‘Magic is always impossible,’ said the magician. ‘It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it is magic.'”

The Magician’s Elephant, page 154

Overall, a fun read that left me believing in magic and in the power of the human spirit. I recommend this one especially for children. I hope to read more of DiCamillo’s novels to my children in future.

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Have you read any Kate DiCamillo novels? What did you think?

4 thoughts on “[The Magician’s Elephant]: A Review

  1. Pingback: [Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures]: A Review – greenish bookshelf

  2. Pingback: September Wrap-Up and October TBR – greenish bookshelf

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