An Elephant in the Garden
This latest book by previous Children’s Laureate, Michael Morpurgo, is mainly about the infamous bombing of the German city, Dresden, by the Allies in the closing years of the Second World War. Through the eyes of a German family, Karli, his sister, Elizabeth, and his mother, we experience the events of that time in 1944 when the people of Dresden had to flee for their lives. What makes this story slightly unusual is that Karli and his family have an elephant with them.
The book begins in the present day, narrated by a present-day Karl’s mother who is a nurse in an old people’s home. Karl makes friends with one of the residents, Lizzie, who is reminded of her brother when he was a boy. The narrative is taken over by Lizzie who begins to tell Karl the story of the elephant, Marlene, explaining that their mother worked at Dresden Zoo during the war and was given the task of looking after a baby elephant. After the bombs begin to fall, the Zoo’s Director warns that the animals may have to be destroyed should they escape and be a danger to the public, even Marlene. Karli’s mother decides to keep Marlene in their garden so, with the Director’s permission, this is what happens. But when the bombing becomes intense the family and elephant have to leave their home.
The hardships suffered by the people at that time are described convincingly as are their worries about whether the Russians approaching from the east, or the Americans and British approaching from the west, would be the severest enemy. I think that this book would be enjoyed by boys or girls from 8 to 12.