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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 Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
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.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.