An Elephant in the Garden
by Michael Morpurgo, published 2011
“If they hate us, Karly, it is because we have also bombed their cities. What we are seeing now is a world gone mad, children, a world full of brutes, all intent on killing one another. And we should not forget that we are all responsible for making it happen.”
All I can say about this book is, Wow, powerful stuff. This children’s book is an utterly fascinating and unique piece of historical fiction, although two separate pieces of history were put together to make one cohesive novel. In essence, this is a story of WWII from the point of view of a family of German refugees fleeing the destruction of Dresden by the Allied forces. It is told in the first person through the eyes of one of the survivors, who was a child at the time. It’s also written as a story within a story, as the child is now an aging woman looking back.
There is so much heart in this children’s book, that it softens the horror and hatred that one would normally find or feel in a story about the horrors of war. It’s not that it downplays the suffering. However, the writing never sensationalizes it, and puts the human face and human emotions on what was happening to millions of people.
The story has a sadness to it, but a sadness that is poignant, and in some ways, all ends well, even if it is in the last few pages. It’s a tough loving book, and one well worth reading in any class studying WWII, or just studying the effects of war on families. I would recommend children be at least 11 years old before reading this, as it can be quite troubling to delve into the tragedies before then.
(Paperback version available Oct. 2013)