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Kate DiCamillo conjures a haunting fable about trusting the unexpected and making the extraordinary come true.
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.
About the Author
Kate DiCamillo is the author of The Tale of Despereaux, which was awarded the Newbery Medal; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, winner of a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award; Because of Winn-Dixie, a Newbery Honor winner; The Tiger Rising, a National Book Award Finalist; the picture book Great Joy; and six books starring Mercy Watson, including a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book. She lives in Minneapolis.
Yoko Tanaka is a graduate of the Art Center College in Pasadena, California. She is the illustrator of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers, and Sparrow Girl by Sara Pennypacker. Yoko Tanaka lives in Los Angeles and Bangkok.
Kate DiCamillo has a gift, inequitably distributed among writers of all kinds, of eliminating the obvious and still egging on the reader. She writes beautifully but thinks simply. The purity of her prose – the reader goes from paragraph to paragraph delighting in the wonderful simple sentences – only adds to the winsome purity of her vision.
—New York Times Book Review
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.
—School Library Journal (starred review)
Reading like a fable told long ago, with rich language that begs to be read aloud, this is a magical story about hope and love, loss and home, and of questioning the world versus accepting it as it is.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
From the unexpectedly miraculous feats of a two-bit illusionist to the transformative powers of love, forgiveness, and a good mutton stew, there is much magic afoot in this fable-like tale… The profound and deeply affecting emotions at work in the story are buoyed up by the tale’s succinct, lyrical text, gentle touches of humor, and uplifting message of redemption, hope, and the interminable power of asking ‘what if?
—Booklist (starred review)
Thoughtful readers will feel a quiet satisfaction with this almost dainty tale of impossible happenings.
DiCamillo’s allegorical novel seems to pack more mass per square inch than average. The plot is fantastical, surreal…And the prose is remarkable, reflecting influences from Kafka to the theater of the absurd to Laurel-and-Hardy humor.
—The Horn Book
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.
Kate DiCamillo tells a tale of ‘hope, redemption, faith, love, and believing in the impossible’ with her usual quiet elegant prose.
—Library Media Connection
Tanaka’s shadowy, evocative acrylic paintings echo the dreamy nature of the storytelling and add a surprising amount of solidity (and a particularly nice elephant).
—Bulletin of the Center of Children’s Books
With its rhythmic sentences and fairy-tale tone, this novel yields solitary pleasures but begs to be read aloud. Hearing it in a shared space can connect us, one to one, regardless of age, much like the book's closing image: a small stone carving, hands linked, of the elephant's friends.
—Washington Post Book World
Though DiCamillo's first success was with realistic fiction, she has since explored fantasy, here looking at how individuals and society take an impossible event into their narrative of the way the world is. Is it broken or fixable by those who embrace the unusual?
DiCamillo's elegant, evocative prose underpins the otherworldliness of Baltese, a place where a long-accepted truth can be shattered as easily as an elephant crashes through the opera-house ceiling.
Readers willing to venture a little deeper into the darkness will be reassured and rewarded by the singular sense of hope that nearly glows from DiCamillo's prose, and from the incandescent illustrations created by Yoko Tanaka.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
The power of DiCamillo’s writing enables the hope and determination of the characters to break through the gloom that penetrates the story...DiCamillo has again captured the loneliness and unwavering optimism that can only be found in children.
Using short yet powerful sentences and cinematic descriptions, DiCamillo creates another emotion-swelling gem in what is becoming an impressive crown of work.
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
Lyrical language and many interesting characters make this a wonderful read aloud book or one to be savored alone.
—Kansas City Star
Bringing all these characters together for a happy ending requires its own special magic, which is enhanced by DiCamillo's finely rendered Old World writing style — and the gorgeously muted pencil illustrations of Los Angeles artist Yoko Tanaka.
—Los Angeles Times
A fairy tale, a mystery, a truly magical story of love and hope that will captivate readers young and old.
—Christian Science Monitor
—Florida Times-Union on Jacksonville.com
Featured/recommended on Oprah's 2012 Kids Reading List