The Magician's Elephant

Author Kate DiCamillo talks about her newest book

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

In The Magician's Elephant, the main character, Peter Augustus Duchene, a 10-year-old orphan, is on a quest to find a sister he thought was dead. When a fortuneteller tells him to “follow the elephant,” he goes on an amazing adventure with a motley collection of characters.

The Magician's Elephant is the latest book by award-winning author Kate DiCamillo, who also wrote Because of Winn Dixie and the Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread. Both books were nominated for the Newbery Award. Despereaux won the 2004 Newbery. Both books were also made into popular movies.

A movie of The Magician's Elephant, which became available in bookstores on September 8, is also in the works.

DiCamillo spoke to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps recently about her life as a writer, and her latest creation. This Kid Reporter first wanted to know where DiCamillo gets all her terrific ideas.

"A magician sort of popped into my head," she said. He seemed so real she immediately began to imagine what kind of magic he would perform. "And that's when the elephant popped into my head. He was sort of like a vision."

All that imagination and idea popping happened while she was sitting in a New York City hotel lobby waiting for a friend. Since she always carries a notebook with her, she quickly made notes.

Much of what DiCamillo dreams up for her stories comes from random things she sees around her. She puts it all down in a notebook so she won’t forget a single detail. She writes down observations and what she overhears in conversations.

"It's not real often that real people end up in my books," she said. But you never know. If it's interesting, she writes it down and keeps it handy until she finds a place for it.

Animal Lover

For those of you who have read DiCamillo's other books, you know animals play main roles in every story. That’s because she is a true animal lover.

As a young girl, DiCamillo wanted to be a veterinarian, but she soon realized she didn't have what it takes to work with sick animals all day. She never dreamed then that she would become an award-winning author whose books would be made into movies. She thought she would be lucky just to get one book published.

"The biggest obstacle was in the beginning, before I was published, to keep on writing when you didn't know if you were ever going to get published," she told Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

Her advice to any young writer is to just keep writing.

"Read as much as you can and figure out how to write a little bit every day," she said.

Her own personal goal is to write at least two pages a day. It usually takes about a year for her to complete a book, she said.

The Elements of a Good Story

Whether it's a mouse on a journey or a colorful quest to find a sister, DiCamillo’s stories connect with her readers. That's because, she says, she always includes the elements of a great story: heart, humor, and magic.

"Heart is where you feel that someone is telling the story from their heart,"she said. "Humor, because I always like something that can make me laugh."

In DiCamillo's books, magic—whether literal or figurative—is when the impossible becomes possible.

"I always like the feeling where you look at the world in a different way and you believe in things and you hope," she said.

Heart, humor, and magic are certainly central elements in DiCamillo's latest work, The Magician's Elephant. For more information about the book, check out the official Magician’s Elephant Web site. You can register there for a live webcast with the author on October 25.

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Scholastic Kids Press Corps

The Scholastic Kids Press Corps was a team of about 50 Kid Reporters around the nation that brought news to life with reporting for kids, by kids.