An Elephant in the Garden
What You Need to Know:|
• An Elephant in the Garden is a wonderful book that celebrates the human spirit.
• The story is set in Germany during WWII, but it isn't a Nazi war story.
• This story is told from the perspective of a young, German girl from a pacifist family that is just trying to survive.
• This book will span many age levels, although due to the mature subject of war, I wouldn't give this to a child
younger than fourth grade.
• The author, Michael Morpurgo, also wrote War Horse, recently adapted to film.
Lizzie and her family are living a happy life in Dresden, Germany, when WWII breaks out. Lizzie's father is sent to the Russian front line, and Lizzie's mother, Mutti, is left behind to take care of Lizzie and her brother Karl. Like so many of the women left behind in wartime, Mutti must pitch in and take a job that has been vacated by the men who have been sent to fight the war. Mutti ends up working at the Dresden Zoo.
When an order is issued to shoot the animals in the event of a bombing, Mutti is beside herself - most especially for Marlene, her elephant charge. Mutti convinces the zoo director to spare the elephant certain death, for Marlene is as gentle as a kitten and will do no harm should she be liberated from the zoo during a bomb raid. When the zoo director reluctantly agrees, Mutti begins to take Marlene home at night to ensure her safety. When the inevitable bombing occurs, Marlene escapes to the countryside with Mutti and her family. The elephant plays a prominent role in this family's survival.
I was enthralled reading this book. The author has done a masterful job writing a suspenseful story that will hold the interest of the reader and humanize the war experience. I have yet to read a book about war that shows the brutal effects from so many sides. The narrator, Lizzie, is sixteen years old. The author has used Lizzie’s voice, and the elephant's, to tell a story that allows children to fully relate to the universal suffering of war, in a way that is unprecedented in children's literature.
The author based this novel loosely on two true stories. The first was based on a radio broadcast he heard about a Belfast zookeeper who during WWII kept a baby elephant safe during the bombings. The second story was about a German family that became refugees as a result of the Dresden bombings, and so they were trying to get to the countryside before the Russian's invaded. Finally, the author finds elephants inspiring; he has always thought they are "the noblest and wisest and most sensitive of all creatures".
2011, 208 pages
Friendship, Self-Awareness/Discovery, Compassion/Empathy, War, Tolerance, Illness, Growing Up, Good Book Club Selection
• What do you think of Lizzie's story?
• Do you think you would have the patience to listen to an old woman tell the story of her childhood? Why or why not?
• Why do you think Karl was so interested in what Lizzie had to tell him?
• Have you read any other books about Germany, during WWII? What are they?
• Are those other books anything like this one? Why or why not?
• Do you think Marlene had anything to do with the family's survival? Why or why not?
• Do you know anyone like Karli, Lizzie's brother? How are they alike?
• How do you think Peter helped his family survive?
• Do you think Mutti, Lizzie and Karl were courageous? How?
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