Middle Grade Reviews: The Thief Lord & The Magicians Elephant

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Description on Goodreads:
Prosper and Bo are orphans on the run from their cruel aunt and uncle. The brothers decide to hide out in Venice, where they meet a mysterious character who calls himself the “Thief Lord.” Brilliant and charismatic, the Thief Lord leads a ring of street children who dabble in petty crimes. Prosper and Bo relish being part of this colorful new family. But the Thief Lord has secrets of his own. And soon the boys are thrust into circumstances that will lead them, and readers, to a fantastic, spellbinding conclusion.

This was one I read aloud to my kids at bedtime.  A two to three chapters and night and several weeks long, we finally finished.  And while it’s definitely not the best Cornelia Funke book I’ve read there were parts I really enjoyed.
This book started out really slow for me.  It seemed like it didn’t really take off until halfway through.  So I struggled a bit.  And then I just felt a little let down, like it just didn’t have enough ‘oomph’ for me.  The characters were okay and everything worked out fine and I liked the idea of it all, I just wanted a bit more.
This was a hard one to read aloud because of all the Italian.  I mean, just the places in the book are Italian places and I have no idea how to pronounce those things out loud.  Apparently it’s much easier in my head.  I also felt like I tripped over words a lot so the flow wasn’t as smooth.  Now I maybe wouldn’t point it out so much but the next book I read showed me this even more.
Overall it was a decent read.  I enjoyed it, I just didn’t love it.  I think this is one I would have enjoyed more if I’d read it to myself, rather than spreading it out so long and reading it aloud to my kids.
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Description from Goodreads:
In a highly awaited new novel, Kate DiCamillo conjures a haunting fable about trusting the unexpected — and making the extraordinary come true.

What if? Why not? Could it be?

When a fortuneteller’s tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortuneteller’s mysterious answer (an elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true. With atmospheric illustrations by fine artist Yoko Tanaka, here is a dreamlike and captivating tale that could only be narrated by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. In this timeless fable, she evokes the largest of themes — hope and belonging, desire and compassion — with the lightness of a magician’s touch.

Now this, this is the ideal read aloud book.  I felt like the words flowed off my tongue like honey.  I could have read all night because the beauty of every single word took my breath away.  There has never, ever been a book that I enjoyed reading out loud as much as this one.  It was simply beautiful.
I read this book in only a matter of days to my kids each night at bed time.  Once I started reading I loathed the idea of setting it down and waiting an entire day to pick it up.  I didn’t want it to ever end.  
Now I’ve spoke about the beauty in the words and such but what about the actual story?  Well, to be honest I’m not sure I would have liked it as much if I hadn’t been reading it out loud.  The story is definitely one that feels more juvenile, better for the younger readers.  But the writing is something we can all appreciate.  Now don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the story, I think it was just it was ‘young’ for my tastes.  But this was one that my kids really enjoyed so I think it was quite appropriate for their ages.  
I will most definitely find more by this author.  As a matter of fact we already have The Tale of Despereaux which I plan to read real soon.  I very highly recommend you pick this one up!
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  1. Kate DiCamillo is one of my fave MG authors (along with Kate Messner–maybe it’s the first name! Heh.). She writes so well, you’re completely immersed in the story.

    I like Cornelia Funke and did enjoy The Thief Lord–have you read the dragon books by her (can’t think of the titles off-hand)?

  2. Awww, you’ve gotta love MG reads! I only usually read YA unless a middle grade read is strongly recommended to me, and I feel that way with The Magician’s Elephant — it sounds like such a beautiful story! I remember reading The Tale of Despereaux as a kid and I had no idea that the author wrote another story! Considering how I loved the first one, I’m extra-intrigued! And Cornelia Funke has a great name :’)

    Awesome mini middle grade reviews, Candace! <3

  3. I’ve tried The Thief Lord but the beginning was really slow and I got frustrated, eventually put it down. I’m going to try again since you think the book picks up halfway.

    I’ve yet to read a book by Kate DiCamillo. I know she’s super popular with the kids and parents. Need to fix that right away!

  4. I would definitely struggle with the Italian parts in The Thief Lord too. I have trouble reading aloud in english half the time, through in some tricky names in another language and I’d be screwed:) Love the sound of the Magician’s Elephant though, I’m making a note of it for my younger cousins – they love to read:)

  5. The Magician’s Elephant sounds really cute. I’m not sure it is for me since you said it is for younger readers but it does sound pretty interesting.

    Thanks for the great reviews!

  6. I have not been able to get into Cornelia Funke either I have tried her a couple of times and just found her books to be ok. Now the second author, Kate, I have not heard of so I a, going to go research her. I love gorgeous writing.

  7. I don’t read MG books, but I’m always on the hunt for good ones since I still haven’t given up on my little cousins. I want them to be readers so bad, but they are gamers. LOL

    Feels like it’s been so long since I’ve read a book aloud. The Magician’s Elephant sounds enchanting and perfect to do that with.

  8. Candace- I couldn’t get into The Thief Lord. It was just such a slow beginning.

    Now Kate DiCamillo? That’s a whole other story! The Miraculous Adventures of Edward Tulane is a beautiful story. Because of Winn Dixie, which might be a little old for your kids yet, And the Tales of Desperaux are great. Movie sucked! It was like a totally different story and not in a good way. I so miss reading with my kids!


  9. Omg – The Miraculous Adventure of Edward Tulane is one of my favorite books EVER! I used to read it to my son ALL the time. But that’s the only DiCamillo book I’ve read.

    And I’m totally with you on reading the different language aloud. I can read and write different languages just fine, but actually saying them – sucks. So I hated when I had to while reading to my son, but at the same time, I think it was good for him to see me try pronouncing new words.

  10. I tried to read Funke’s Reckless, and just could NOT get into it at all. I have a copy of Inkheart, but haven’t read it yet (though I did like the movie:) But, I’m so glad you enjoyed The Magician’s Elephant, and recommend it as a readalong with your kids. I haven’t heard of it (and haven’t read anything else by that author) but I am going to definitely check it out next time I’m at my library! I really love that you review MG books too Candace, because when you get a hold of a good one there is just nothing like sharing that with younger kids!:)

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