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The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant    by Michelle Cuevas & Ed Young order for
Masterwork of a Painting Elephant
by Michelle Cuevas
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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*   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant is a unique little book. Ed Young's illustrations add a touch of whimsy to Michelle Cuevas's at time childish, at times philosophical story, and this makes it very hard to classify.

Pigeon Jones is abandoned by his parents as a baby on an orphanage's doorstep. Instead of staying put in his basket, he crawls away to a pile a leaves where he meets Birch, a retired circus elephant who had just quit his job at the carwash and has a penchant for painting. Birch takes Pigeon and raises him, never allowing this little one to leave his back. When Pigeon turns nine, Birch decides it is time for him to go to school, but soon, Pigeon comes up with an idea to reunite Birch with his one true love. From there, their journey takes them out of their small town to New York, Hollywood, and eventually, Paris, learning all the way.

The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant is rather uneven. At times it is simple and reads like a chapter book for independent readers, but at others, the philosophy spouted by Pigeon, Birch, and some supporting characters is so deep that it boggles the mind. The storyline itself has rough patches, too as it flows rapidly at some parts but is almost at a standstill in others. Young's art, though, helps to bring the story to life and is reminiscent of the simple line drawings in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.

Overall, I cannot really say who The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant is for – young readers or adults. It really seems to be aimed at neither.

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