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Book Club Kits: The Magician's Elephant

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

What if? Why not? Could it be?

When a fortuneteller's tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortuneteller's mysterious answer (an elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true. With atmospheric illustrations by fine artist Yoko Tanaka, here is a dreamlike and captivating tale that could only be narrated by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. In this timeless fable, she evokes the largest of themes — hope and belonging, desire and compassion — with the lightness of a magician’s touch.

Discussion Questions

  • Peter is told by the fortuneteller that the “truth is forever changing” (page 7). Do you agree? Can something that was once true become false? Are there important truths at the beginning of The Magician’s Elephant that aren’t true by the story’s end?

  • The old magician keeps insisting that he intended to conjure a bouquet of lilies, not an elephant. But is he being honest? Why did he want to perform real magic that night in the Bliffendorf Opera House? Why couldn’t he undo his magic?

  • What is the great lie that Vilna Lutz tells Peter? Why does he tell it? What lies do you think the old soldier tells himself?

  • The elephant and the magician have been placed behind bars, but they aren’t the only confined characters in the novel. What restricts Madam LaVaughn? How free are Peter and Adele?

  • One dark day Peter decides “that it was a terrible and complicated thing to hope, and that it might be easier, instead, to despair” (page 51). In what ways is despair easier than hope? Does Peter really believe that hope isn’t worth the fight? Do you?

  • How does the arrival of the elephant stir up the people of Baltese? Why does the countess Quintet regret its arrival? How does she regain the upper hand?

  • When does Peter realize that he doesn’t want to be a soldier anymore? What makes him turn against his military training (page 98)?

  • Discuss the elephant’s predicament. How has she been failed by the magician’s trick? What is the magical transformation she seeks?

  • Sister Marie has no doubt that every creature has its own name, even the elephant (page 90). Why are names so important? Would you be a different person if you had a different name?

  • What does Gloria Matienne long for? Why does she fear she’ll never have it? When does she realize that she will?

  • What promise does Peter make to the elephant? Why does he initially regret making it? How does he succeed in keeping it?