When a ship sinks off the coast of Maine, twelve-year-old Nora tries to help the survivors which include an orphaned boy and an elephant.
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Grade 4-8-Living on an island off the coast of Maine, 12-year-old Nora and her mother have a hard time getting along since the death of brother Owen three years before. It's 1835, and Nora's father, a sea captain, has been away for three weeks and is due home as the novel opens. That evening, a passing steamer catches fire and the island residents watch helplessly until the Captain's ship appears, rescuing four of the passengers. Between caring for an elephant that makes its way from the ship to shore and helping her mother tend to a young boy who is badly burned and has lost his mother in the catastrophe, Nora has a hard time remembering her chores. When the elephant escapes from the barn, and when the injured child finally learns the truth about his mother's death, Nora and her mother attain a new understanding of one another. As historical fiction, this improbable tale fails to give readers a sense of place and time, and in fact the details are sometimes wrong, as in feeding the elephant bales of hay 30 years before the baler was invented. The elephant fails to provide the interest found in Gillian Cross's The Great American Elephant Chase (Holiday, 1993), since it dies without ever evincing much personality. Straining credulity, the tale falls apart despite fine writing and a few intriguing characters. From the romance novel cover to the unsatisfying epilogue, there is little here to engage readers.?Carol A. Edwards, Minneapolis Public Library
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 5^-8. What appears to be interesting historical fiction--the life of 12-year-old Nora, daughter of a sea captain, living on an island off the coast of Maine--takes a surprising twist when the Royal Tar, a ship carrying passengers and circus animals, burns and capsizes. There are few survivors: one is a young boy with a severely burned leg; the other, an elephant. Stone juggles several story lines fairly adroitly. The earlier death of Nora's younger brother, Owen, and her mother's subsequent grief, assumes a new dimension with the introduction of the badly burned Zenas. Also, there are Nora's guilt over her brother's death, the fear and uncertainty of harsh winters and an even harsher sea, Nora's relationship with the Cold Harbour villagers, and even the capture and confinement of the elephant. Stone does drop one stitch, however. The implication at one point is that a circus tiger is wandering the island mauling livestock, a plot line that is never resolved. But that's minor. A surprising, many-layered, and memorable historical novel. Frances Bradburn
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