Fact and Fiction: Jane Kerr’s The Elephant Thief

Guest Blogger  //  Mar 27, 2018

Fact and Fiction: Jane Kerr’s The Elephant Thief

Calling all animal lovers! The Elephant Thief by Jane Kerr is a lively, historical adventure filled with friendship and heart for middle grade readers. And isn’t it all the more heartwarming when the stories that move us are based on real events?

Eleven years ago, author and journalist Jane Kerr took a visit to the Manchester museum, and couldn’t help but notice the seven-foot tall skeleton of Maharaja the elephant. Nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, he’d lived in a travelling circus before being sold at auction in Edinburgh for 680 pounds. The owner of BelleVue Zoological Gardens bought the 8-year-old elephant, and arranged for the animal to be transported by train, but Maharaja had other plans.

He destroyed the railway carriage with his giant tusks and was instead forced to walk with his guide the 200-odd miles from Edinburgh to Manchester’s BelleVue Zoo in ten days.  

“Because the story had stuck with me for so long …you know that it will work as a book,” says Jane Kerr.

Jane’s adaptation of this infamous walk is The Elephant Thief, the story of a young mute boy named Danny who is given an incredible opportunity to ride Maharajah the 200 miles from Edinburgh to Manchester. The stakes rise as the menagerie owner makes an impossible bet that boy and elephant will make it in one week’s time. Even Queen Victoria takes an interest. Together Danny and Maharajah must create their own form of communication and understanding to make the journey. But while Danny’s celebrity status casts him in the limelight, his past entanglements follow him, desperate to ruin him. 

Barry Cunningham, publisher of the Scholastic imprint Chicken House says, “At its heart lies an unlikely and touching friendship between a boy and an elephant. You’ll experience tears of rage, wonder, and joy as this classic tale of hope against all the odds transports you to another time . . .” 

Meanwhile, Maharajah now lives on in the Manchester museum, and now in the unforgettable adventure that Jane has created in The Elephant Thief