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boy and girl wearing knit crowns looking at reading picture books with mother
Dr. Joanne Meier
Sound It Out
Joanne Meier

Pictures in the Mind: Magicians and Elephants

Our new family read aloud is Kate DiCamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant (opens in a new window). Although we’re only three chapters in, we’re all hooked. It’s a great read aloud for my kids, ages 7 and 9, and I’m sure other ages would love it too.

An excerpt from Kirkus Reviews:

Ten-year-old Peter Augustus Duchene goes to the market for fish and bread but spends it at the fortuneteller’s tent instead. Seeking his long-lost sister, Peter is told, “You must follow the elephant. She will lead you there.” And that very night at the Bliffenendorf Opera House, a magician’s spell goes awry, conjuring an elephant that crashes through the ceiling and lands on Madam Bettine LaVaughn. Reading like a fable told long ago, with rich language that begs to be read aloud, this is a magical story about hope and love, loss and home, and of questioning the world versus accepting it as it is.

The book’s website (opens in a new window) offers Chapter 1 as an excerpt, as well as an activity kit and a reading group discussion guide.

DiCamillo’s writing brings you right there: right to the fortuneteller’s tent, right to the magician’s prison cell. While the book includes a few illustrations, (beautifully done by Yoko Tanaka) the writing provides a perfect opportunity to help kids develop pictures in their mind while reading or listening. The National Reading Panel includes mental imagery as one of their “top 7” comprehension strategies, citing research (opens in a new window)that suggests imagery can improve memory, comprehension, and an appreciation for text.

I found one booklist with titles to use with young kids that provide mental imagery practice:

Let’s make our own list of books to use with kids that provide powerful mental images, I’ll start! You comment in with titles too!

1. The Magician’s Elephant — perfect for grades 2-4, see above
2. The Wingdingdilly (by Bill Peet) — my second graders loved drawing their own creature as I read aloud

About the Author

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Publication Date
November 4, 2009