The story primarily concerns a boy whose greatest wish is to know if the sister he lost as an infant is still alive. A fortune-teller reveals that she is, and that if the boy wishes to find her, he must "follow the elephant." Being that the boy lives in a fictional northern-European city, he does not hold out much hope of ever seeing an elephant, let alone of finding one to follow. But then a magician inexplicably conjures an elephant in place of a bouquet, and the boy follows it to his heart.
While the boy, Peter Augustus Duchene, is very much the protagonist, DiCamillo takes full advantage of her omniscient narrator by also presenting the perspectives of the lost sister, the magician (who is imprisoned after the elephant falls on a noblewoman), a kind police inspector, and even the elephant herself. She does so fluidly - the changes in perspective feel very natural to the narrative - and in doing so, allows this simple story to take on a universality that it would otherwise lack.
The Magician's Elephant is not an overly dynamic book (it was made for candles and snowy evenings), but it is absolutely lovely, full of warm shadows and inevitable magic. My only complaint is that it's very satisfying ending arrived too soon.