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At our next Family Days on Saturday, January 26th, our Book Club for 11 + feature will be The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. Book Club participants need not read the book in order to participate, but for those who are interested, the book is currently for sale at the Poetry Center, and will also be on sale the day of the event. Check out our website for more information.
The scenario is familiar and simple: a toy rabbit gets lost. It's a plot that reminds me of some of my favorite Pixar movies, like Toy Story and Finding Nemo. And of course it's reminsicent, too, of The Velveteen Rabbit. But what Kate DiCamillo writes in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane digs deeper, tugs harder, and gets darker. With amazing imagery, strong characterization, emotional honesty, and instructive morals, DiCamillo creates a world that's not so different from our own: beautiful and harsh, but ultimately one in which hope wins out in the end.
Edward Tulane isn't your typical toy rabbit. He's not some warm, velvety creature stuffed with love, but is instead "almost entirely made of china," except for his ears and tail, which are made of real rabbit fur. And he isn't personified as some lovable little guy, at least not at first. Instead he's kind of snotty: he "felt himself to be an exceptional specimen." Initially, he's not dressed in cute, laidback overalls, but instead in "handmade silk suits, custom shoes fashioned from the finest leather...and has a gold pocket watch." And it's no wonder, as he comes from a very wealthy family. His owner is the sweet Abilene Tulane, who "thought almost as highly of Edward as Edward thought of himself." But the problem with their relationship is that Edward doesn't reciprocate this love. He's not a good listener: "in truth, he was not very interested in what people had to say."
His ears do perk up though to Pellegrina, Abilene's grandmother, who "spoke to him as Abilene did, as one equal to another." One night, Pellegrina tells Abilene and Edward a story about a very beautiful princess, but one who "loved no one and cared nothing for love, even though there were many who loved her." This tragic flaw of the princess's comes back to haunt her, and a witch, upon finding out that this princess loves no one, turns her into a warthog. "You disappoint me," the witch says, moments before the princess's transformation.
This fable-like meta story becomes symbolic throughout the rest of the story. Edward, like the princess, loves no one but himself. And he needs a epic-like journey in order to teach him some lessons. The next day, Edward joins Abilene and her family on a cruise-like vacation. Early on in the trip, a couple of rascal boys grab Edward from Abilene and accidentally toss him off the ship. This climatic moment is a turn in the story. From here on out, Edward embarks on his journey.
I won't spoil any more of the plot, but rest assured that Edward's story is a journey indeed. He meets people and animals from all walks of life--from storytelling hobos to friendly dogs, and from old fishermen to young girls. And through these encounters, he not only gets taken down to size and humbled, but he learns what it means to feel pain, to ache with sadness and anger. He learns what it means to suffer. He learns what it means to love. He learns what it means to have someone he loves die. These are huge life lessons for someone as young as Edward, but lessons in which he has to learn in order to grow, in order to love and appreciate the people who surround his life. The book teaches other invaluable lessons, as well: don't condescend to children; be a good listener; keep a positive outlook on life; learn to love other people than yourself. Lessons that are important not only for youth, but for everyone.
Kate DiCamillo is an American author of children's fiction. Her 2003 novel The Tale of Despereaux won the annual Newbery Medal as the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children", three years after Because of Winn-Dixie was a runner up (Newbery Honor Book). DiCamillo is also known for the Mercy Watson series of picture books, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.