Water for Elephants


Author: Sara Gruen

Title: Water for Elephants

Genre: Bestsellers, Fiction

Publication Date: 2006

Number of Pages: 352

Geographical Setting: U.S.

Time Period: The Great Depression in 1932

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: Jacob Jankowski is almost done with veterinary school when he receives word that both his parents have been killed. Distraught, he runs away and jumps onto a passing train that happens to be part of a second-rate circus train. In the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus world he encounters freaks, misfits, and the love of his live, Marlena. When an elephant, Rosie, is bought for the show, it is Jacob who figures out how to communicate with her and learns a lot about the human-animal bond in the process. This story is from 90-year-old Jacob’s perspective as he looks back upon his life with the circus and Marlena. The book is partially based on real circus stories and is illustrated with historical circus photographs, which add to the magic of the story.

Subject Headings: Circus performers; Reminiscing in old age; Depressions—1929-1941; Traffic accident victims; Human/animal relations; Parents—Death; Veterinarians; Men/women relations; Triangles (Interpersonal relations); Women circus performers; Circus animals; Women horse trainers; Elephants; Human-animal communication; Manic-depressive men; Circus

Appeal: Dramatic, Romantic, Circus performers, Adventurous, Compelling, Historical details, Vivid, Cinematic, Tragic, Emotional, Mystical, Timeless, Detailed

3 terms that best describe this book: Dramatic, Engaging, Circus

Similar Authors and Works


  1. The Circus Age: Culture and Society Under the American Big Top by Janet M. Davis- This is the fascinating history of the circus as public entertainment in the 1900’s. Davis also suggests that the circus culture continues today in places like Las Vegas and Disneyland.
  2. Love, War, and Circuses: The Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Humans by Eric Scigliano- This book describes the historical relationship between elephants and humans, and the use of elephants in warfare, industry, and circuses.
  3. Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence- and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene Pepperberg- The story of a famous African Grey parrot. The book documents his 30-year relationship with his trainer.


  1. Madeleine is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum- Young Madeleine falls into a deep sleep and finds herself leaving the tangible world of her French village and joining a gypsy circus.
  2. The Blue Moon Circus by Michael Raleigh- Ringmaster Lewis Tully tours the American west in 1926 with his circus act.
  3. Niagara Falls All Over Again by Elizabeth McCraken- An elderly man, Mose Sharp, looks back at his life in show business with his vaudeville act partner Rocky Carter.

Name: Kim


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