With Lizzie’s father fighting in World War II, her mother takes on the job of a zoo keeper to provide for her family. Lizzie, her mother, and her eight-year-old brother Karli have become especially attached to an orphaned elephant named Marlene. The bombing of Dresden is imminent and soon, so the zoo director explains that as a precautionary measure all the animals must be destroyed so that they’re not running wild through the city. Lizzie’s mother persuades the director to allow Marlene, the elephant, to come stay in the family’s garden. Dresden is bombed and the family, including Marlene, is forced from the city. Lizzie’s mother has to find a different route out of the city to keep the elephant and the children safe from harm.
When Karl's mother needs to work overtime as a nurse at the local nursing home on weekends, she would always take him along. At first, she was hesitant and unsure how he would get along with the many elderly residents but soon found that not only Karl loved it but they enjoyed him in return. He strikes up a friendship with Lizzie, an 82 year old woman who just so happened to have a brother named Karli that seemed to have a striking resemblance to him. No one believes Lizzie when she talks of her elephant she has in the garden and the staff say she is just confused and imagining things. No one that is except nine-year-old Karl, who is so fascinated by her story and can't wait to hear more. Lizzie tells Karl and his mother the story of Marlene the elephant and how the day of February 13th, 1945 changed her life forever.
The story flashes back to the time when she was a young girl during World War II living in the city of Dresden, Germany with her brother Karli and mother (mutti). Her father has left for the war and her mutti takes a job at the local zoo. Mutti learns that all the animals will be destroyed because if the city is bombed, they cannot run at large. Her mother offers to take in Marlene, a baby elephant to care for instead of such drastic measures happening to her. One evening, while the family is out walking Marlene, the city is bombed and the elephant runs off frightened. The family chases after her and finds themselves too running for their lives with nothing but the clothes on their backs as they look back at their once beautiful city being destroyed. This beautifully written historical fiction was inspired by a true story. I was so engrossed in this book that I read it in one day. Listening to Lizzie's story not only brought emotion but the writing was so vividly detailed that I could see and hear the sounds of the war in my mind. The family struggles on foot in the winter snow with no money, food, or shelter to find safety while the Russian Soldiers close in on them from the east. This is a story of courage, hope, survival and finding love. The author describes the war from a child's point-of-view nicely and does not skim over the facts of the two sides along with the causes and effects of the war. At times, it has German vocabulary but the English meaning is also present. The ending wraps up quickly and there is an author's note describing how the idea came to life for this story. This book is a reminder of the so many stories that are out there that should not be forgotten. It develops a connection with our youth and the importance of our elderly before their stories are taken with them to their next journey. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 10 and up.~
Title: An Elephant in the Garden
Author: Michael Morpurgo
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: October 2011, Feiwel & Friends
Hardcover, 199 pages