Sunday, September 4, 2011

An elephant in the garden by Michael Morpurgo

A few weeks ago a parent walking past me mentioned she was trying to buy a book for her son called An elephant in the garden. I had not heard of it so I was very curious. When I looked up this book I discovered it was by the famous author Michael Morpurgo. I clearly remember the very first Michael Morpurgo title I read called Why the whales came. It had a big impact on me so I was keen to buy An elephant in the garden for our school library.

This is a terrific story set in Dresden during World War Two. Lizzie, now nearly 90 and living in a Nursing Home in Canada, recalls the events of her early life when her mother worked at the Dresden Zoo. Bombs had been dropping all over Germany and the zoo authorities had taken the heart wrenching decision to shoot all the dangerous animals in the zoo so the people of Dresden, and perhaps the animals themselves, would not be put in any danger in the event of an attack.

Lizzie’s mum or Mutti convinces the zoo authorities that she can take care of one young elephant, Marlene. Mutti has cared for Marlene since her birth, indeed it was Mutti who named her Marlene after Marlene Dietrich. The family bring the four year old elephant home and all goes well until the fateful day the bombs begin to fall. Lizzie, her young brother Karli and Mutti all need to flea the city with Marlene in tow. Along the way they meet a Canadian airman whose plane has been shot down and they also acquire a whole choir of children as they travel across the country looking for refuge and help from the Americans.

Just as they reach this help Marlene runs off. I held my breath. It seemed they might never find her again.

I keep hoping to read that this was all based on a true story – it all seemed so plausible and real. Alas I have not found anything to prove or disprove this. This is a terrific adventure story and one that will be enjoyed by middle primary students. It was good to read a story about this period in history from the point of view of ordinary German citizens. A good alternative to the many holocaust novels for younger readers.

As with nearly all Michael Morpurgo books, this one has perfect and evocative illustrations by wonderful Michael Foreman.

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