Insta Review: An Elephant in the Garden, by Michael Morpurgo

Insta Review gives you a new book recommendation in under a minute. Go ahead, time it!

Guys, I tried with this book. I really did. I love reading along with my students and my sixth graders seemed to be enjoying this one in their English class, so I happily picked it up to join. But even after finishing the final page, I’m struggling to find what they liked about it. Set during WWII but somehow washed clean of any of the rich historical context of that time setting, An Elephant in the Garden follows young Elizabeth and her family first through their lives in Dresden and then as refugees after the city is bombed. Elizabeth’s mother, Mutti, is an employee in a zoo and as the war looms, the head of the zoo allows her to bring Marlene, a young elephant, home at night in case of an emergency (sounds feasible, right?). The family manages to make it out of the city unscathed with Marlene, but the elephant makes their trek as refugees understandably more complicated. Told from the point of view of an old and ailing Elizabeth in a nursing home, the plot plods along like a snowball rolling uphill. The story itself felt so bland that even scenes that should have been interesting – escaping German officers! Juggling on an elephant’s back! Fighting to survive starvation on an endless refugee trek! – were hard to get through. I was disappointed to get so little of the background that makes historical fiction from this time period so popular, and by the characters that never came alive. Let’s not avoid the elephant in the garden – this book was not for me.

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