The Magician's Elephant

By: 

Kate DiCamillo

Number of Pages: 

208

Minimum grade level: 

4th

"Follow the elephant."

What if a fortuneteller gave you this advice? What would you do? Dismiss it as silly?

Meet Peter. He lives in Baltese with an old soldier as his guardian, because his whole family has died--or so he has been told. He suspects that his little sister might still be alive. . .but where? One day, Peter goes to a fortuneteller who confirms that indeed his sister is alive, and gives him this advice: Follow the elephant.

Peter has never seen an elephant in his town. He might as well dismiss the fortuneteller's advice as nonsense. How would an elephant help him find his sister, anyway? But meanwhile, on the other side of town, a magic trick goes horribly wrong; instead of pulling a bouquet of lilies out of his hat, a magician conjures an elephant that crashes through the ceiling, landing them both in jail!

But the elephant has problems of her own. She doesn't belong in a cold, dark city like Baltese, and she certainly doesn't belong in jail. How can she get home, and how can she lead Peter to his sister? It sounds like an impossible situation, and it is. But in Peter's world, impossible things can happen. Follow Peter as he follows the elephant in The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo.

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. What is magic? Do you believe in it? Did this story change the way you think about it?
  2. Who was your favorite character in the story, and why?
  3. How did the various characters feel about the elephant? For example, think about the feelings of: the magician, the noblewoman, the policeman Leo Matienne, Peter, and Adele.
  4. Peter made a couple of promises he didn't know if he could keep. What were they? What do you think about making a promise that you are not 100 percent sure you can keep?
  5. In the case of the elephant and the townspeople, "Longing is not always a reciprocal thing." What does that mean? Do you agree?
  6. Why did the elephant keep saying her name over and over, and when did she stop? What other times in the story did people try to remember a name they had forgotten?
  7. Did the countess do a good thing by paying to move the elephant from the jail into her home? Why or why not?
  8. Why did the noblewoman's servant, Hans Ickman, keep thinking of the dog he had as a child?
  9. Did Peter truly follow the elephant to find his sister? Who was involved in the process of Peter finding Adele?
  10. What one question would you ask a fortune teller?

If you liked this book, try

  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  • The Secret of Zoom by Lynne Jonell
  • Letters to Anyone and Everyone by Toon Tellegen and Jessical Ahlberg
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Activities

Everyone gets a small piece of paper and write a question they would like to ask a fortuneteller. Fold up the papers and place them in the middle of the circle. Each person picks a question and then plays the fortuneteller, writing their answer and advice on the back side. (Just come up with something other than "Follow the Elephant!")

Everyone in the group becomes one of the characters in the story. Act out the steps Peter took to find his sister, from the point where he meets the fortuneteller until they are reunited. (Is that the end of the story?)

Snacks

During this book discussion, you could serve fortune cookies, goldfish (the smallest fish available) and chocolate gold coins (your very own florits).