Lizzie, a frail, aged nursing-home resident, relates to her nurse and the nurse’s son her poignant World War II tale set in Dresden, Germany.
Lizzie’s mother is a zookeeper at the Dresden Zoo, where she cares for its very young elephant. After zoo officials decide that the animals must be shot if Dresden is bombed, she convinces them that the baby elephant could be safely cared for in her back garden. What she doesn’t anticipate is the firestorm that results from extreme Allied bombing in February of 1945. Sixteen-year-old Lizzie, her younger brother Karli, her mother and the elephant begin, on foot, a mid-winter journey toward the safety of a relative’s rural home, where they encounter Peter, a Canadian flyer downed in the bombing. Together, they flee toward American lines. Lizzie’s somewhat stilted voice as she recollects the events from her childhood creates a distance in the narrative that diminishes its punch. Her tale is also periodically—needlessly—interrupted, in a different type, as modern-day events intrude on her storytelling. While the present-day setting gives Morpurgo the opportunity to tie up loose ends, it ultimately distracts from the important, dismal reality of the war story and the plight of the refugees and animals.
A moving but somewhat flawed tale of human—and animal—courage in the face of tragic suffering. (Historical fiction. 10-14)