cover image The Masterwork of 
a Painting Elephant

The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant

Michelle Cuevas, illus. by Ed Young. FSG/Foster, $15.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-374-34854-0

Echoes of Babar and The Velveteen Rabbit float through Cuevas’s uneven debut about the friendship between an abandoned boy and the warmhearted elephant who becomes at once caregiver and home to him. Narrated by Pigeon Jones, whose parents, overwhelmed by the anxieties of child care, leave their infant on the steps of an orphanage, the novel moves through an array of settings, from circus life and the Bronx Zoo to Hollywood and Paris. Pigeon and Birch, a talented painter and former circus elephant unhappily working at a car wash, set off (Pigeon in his secure home atop Birch’s back) from their small town to find Birch’s long-lost love, a beautiful acrobat. Cuevas squeezes a multitude of motifs into their adventures: budding romance, true love, lost parents, and, of course, deep friendship. Laden with metaphors and philosophical bromides (“I wondered if joy, like us, is a traveler and can’t ever stay put in one place for too long”), the novel strives to be a resonant blend of wacky adventure and poignant wisdom, abetted by Young’s Thurber-y ink sketches, but never fully succeeds at either. Ages 6–12. (Oct.)