To be fair, I didn't finish this book, so my impressions at page 82/242 are incomplete. Maybe this is a really great book starting in Chapter 12!
It probably says a lot about my personality that I made it through the poverty, childhood diseases, indentured servitude, classism, families being broken apart, animal cruelty, and child slavery -- but when it came time to beat the baby elephant, I tapped out. Looking back, I should have put this book down a lot sooner. I hung in there during some dark, depressing, bleak ruination of human children's lives, but it was hurting the baby elephant that took it over the top and ended the book for me. I feel pretty gross about myself that I made it that far. I wanted to quit when the <strike>circus</strike> slave master killed the little mouse that was Hastin's only friend, but disgustingly I hung in for a few more chapters.
Do you like elephants? Definitely do not read this book. Baby elephants? AVOID. How about innocent human children? Yes? Then I can't recommend this book.
No, I don't think all stories should be sanitizied for children's consumption. I've read enough Bettelheim to know that kids need to hear age-appropriate dark and scary stories a much as happy and fun stories. But oh my goodness no age is appropriate for this one. The evil people are so awful and greedy and cruel, and the good people are so weak and powerless and poor. And then, like I said, the baby elephant. I can't imagine it was intended to make the reader feel anything but sickening guilt and mounting dread? I found it unbearable.
It's my opinion that kids don't need to know the full extent of cruelty that humans are capable of. They already believe that ruining a family over hospitals bills is wrong, slavery is wrong, child slavery is wrong, and animal cruelty is wrong. So this book isn't teaching any lessons, except maybe, "It's actually way worse than your sweet young mind could even dream." Is that how you want to spend your twenty minutes with your kid at bedtime? Me neither.