A white elephant is an idiom for a gift or project that seems like a wonderful thing, but in reality it is burden. For example, a sports car would make a wonderful gift, but the price of gas and the insurance—not to mention the cost of maintaining the running condition of the sports car—makes it a burden for an average person, making an average salary.
Fleischman wrote this story based on an old story where the King of Siam (today’s Thailand) was angry with one of his courtier. The king gave the courtier a white elephant, which drained the courtier’s resources and ruined the courtier. The story Fleischman wrote explains the subtle nuance of the idiom in a way students will easily understand. Fleischman also created a rich world that most students have never experienced.