Celebrating Water for Elephants 16-Year Anniversary

Today, we’re celebrating the 16th anniversary of the first-ever published ‘Water for Elephants’ by Sara Gruen.

Book Culture Historical Fiction On This Day Recommendations

The enchanting novel Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is one that readers can’t put down. This historical fiction meets romance novel became one of the most well-known 20th-century circus dramas. Today, we’re celebrating its first published release with a look at what made this novel unique and the movie adaptation that had us on the edge of our seats.

A Page-Turning Circus

Author Sara Gruen’s third novel, Water for Elephants, was first published on May 26th, 2006, by Algonquin Books of Chapel. According to major news outlets, it reached phenomenal success in the year of its release. The book was ranked number one on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks, along with recognition from the Wall Street Journal Bestseller and Los Angeles Times Bestseller. Additionally, over 10,000,000 copies have been sold worldwide.


The novel follows a recently orphaned Jacob Jankowski who jumps onto a passing train where he meets the Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Set in the 1930s circus world, Jacob, a veterinary student who almost earned his degree, is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie, or wild animals. While at the circus, he meets the beautiful equestrian act, Marlena, who is married to the charismatic and strange animal trainer, August. In addition, Jacob meets this untrainable elephant named Rosie, but he finds a way to get through to her. Living in the Great Depression, Jacob and this crew look for salvation in these animals and the circus they call home. Only through love and hope for each other will they survive.

Book to Screen Adaptation

As a fan favorite, undoubtedly, the book caught the eye of 20th Century Studios (FOX) in 2006. The book-to-movie adaptation became a major motion picture starring A-list actors like Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz. Francis Lawrence directed the film and Richard LaGravenese and Sara Gruen wrote the adored screenplay. The movie adaptation of Water for Elephants was then released on April 22, 2011.

With adaptations, we always keep in mind how well it represents the book. IMBD describes the film’s synopsis, “Set in the 1930s, a former veterinary student takes a job in a traveling circus and falls in love with the ringmaster’s wife.” For the most part, the movie matches the novel’s plot with the endearing circus memories. However, it drifts from the original as the movie’s plot follows an older Jacob’s narration rather than his wandering thoughts in his head. Although there are some differences, we can still appreciate how moving the tale is. Take a look at the trailer and find all new reasons to fall in love with this classic.

A little fun fact: According to E-News, Sara Gruen and her family have cameos in the film adaptation!

Looking for more Water for Elephants news? Keep reading here!