Here is the secret to writing killer middle grade novels: start your books by giving your main character a tiny bit of money and a shopping list and have them go astray. Cases in point: Because of Winn-Dixie and the book I just finished in tears, The Magician’s Elephant.
I am a sucker for fairy tales which is why I also adored Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Desperaux. I was reeled in after the first paragraph of The Magician’s Elephant,which had been on my to-read pile for far too long.
This book reminds me of a favorite of my kids — The Hat, by Tomi Ungerer. In that story, a hat magically lands atop the head (or at least, that’s what I remember!) of a beggar and his life changes dramatically from that moment on. In The Magician’s Elephant, a young boy’s life is dramatically changed when he crosses a fortune teller’s palm with a florit and his life begins to change.
What is not to admire here? The story has heart. Galore. Poetry. In spades. And just look at how she places us in this pseudo-Eastern European world without one itsy bitsy bit of explanation. Masterful!
This small book feels like the pocket Psalms my grandmother always had handy — slim, but so full of love and promise, and sturdy enough to withstand reading after reading.
Do yourself a huge favor. Put aside whatever title is next on your to-read pile and pick up this jewel. It has the feel good elements of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, folded in with the off-beat sensibility of the Series of Unfortunate Events and the classic stamp of Little Women or The Secret Garden or Pride and Prejudice.
Read. This. Book.