Saturday, December 29, 2012

An Elephant in the Garden

by Michael Morpurgo
Rating: PG

Believe it or not, Lizzie and Karl, her younger brother, have an elephant in their garden. A real, gray, young, elephant. Or they did - in Dresden, during World War II. Lizzie is old now, in an assisted living facility and while the nurse assisting her does not believe her, she listens for the sake of her son, also named Karl, who is enamoured by the tale of an elephant in a garden. Lizzie's mother was a zookeeper in Dresden after her father was conscripted into the German army and sent off to fight at the Russian front. Dresden had not yet suffered physical damage from the war but rumours of a future bombing were swirling in the cold air. Lizzie's mother was told she could care for Marlene, an orphaned baby elephant, and so every night, she walked Marlene home from the zoo to their home in Dresden to keep her safe. And because of this elephant, when the Allies did bomb Dresden, Lizzie's family - and elephant - escaped the terrible destruction that occurred. Now they had to find shelter and safety, trekking through the deep winter snows of the German countryside. 

The story is well-written and an unusual tale set during WWII. It offers important perspective as we see the people of Germany struggling to survive through the war just like those in the allied countries. We recognize that when war comes, humanity on all sides suffer, no matter the nationality. 

The book is clean, no bad language, no sexual innuendo, and violence is minimal and mild, almost muted. The story is not about the violence of war but about survival, finding unexpected friends along the road, and how something that could seem a burden can be a great blessing.