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The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf)

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf)

THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, by Kate Dicamillo

Illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline

Published by Candlewick Press in 2009

Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Fiction

suggested Age range:  7-10 years

 

SUMMARY:

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who treated him with the utmost care and adored him completely.

And then, one day, he was lost.

Kate DiCamillo and Bagram Ibatoulline take us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the top of a garbage heap to the fireside of a hoboes’ camp, from the bedside of an ailing child to the streets of Memphis. And along the way, we are shown a true miracle — that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again.

(from the official Edward Tulane website)

 

TOPICS AND THEMES:  Love and loss.  Includes the death of a child.  

edward-tulane

 

So what did we think?  

Meagan:  I am always impressed with Kate DiCamillo’s writing.  It is imperceptible.  She manages to write in a way that feels immersive and natural and lets me read the story without being aware of her writing.  Her use of language, pacing, tone etc. is borderline perfect.  

I read a feature article in Compose literary magazine a while back about the bad advice great writers give to beginning writers.  One of the examples of common bad advice was “In order to be a great writer you need to read a lot of great books.  From them, you’ll learn how to write.”  The writer went on to say that this is bad advice because one of the characteristics of a great book written by a very talented author is that you lose the sense that you’re reading a book someone wrote.  The story just is.  Great authors are great at hiding the machinery, in other words.  I think that is very true of Kate DiCamillo’s writing.  The machinery’s hidden from view pretty well.

 

Eva:  I one hundred percent agree.  Kate DiCamillo’s beautiful language and masterful storytelling make this book shine.  It begins with:

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a rabbit who was made almost entirely of china.  He had china arms and china legs, china paws and a china head, a china torso and a china nose….

You can hear the rhythm of the repeated words, and young children love both repeated words and poetic language.   

 

Meagan:  But despite the beautiful writing, I can’t say I really enjoyed this book much.  It was okay.  After talking a couple weeks ago about the super-active protagonist in The Graham Cracker Plot, it was such a departure to read a book with a completely inactive protagonist.  Edward literally cannot move or speak.  We hear his thoughts, and stuff happens to him and around him.  This is breaking a major writing “rule,” which the author gets away with because she’s fantastic and well-respected already.  I seriously doubt this would fly as anyone’s debut novel.  

 

Eva:  On the other hand, the story follows John Truby’s “rule” from The Anatomy of Story that a main character should begin with a weakness or moral flaw that he/she will overcome by the end of the story.  Of course, it’s not Edward’s actions that help him overcome his flaw because, like you said, he can’t act.  Still, it makes for a satisfying story because he starts with a flaw and changes for better by the end.  

the-miraculous-journey-of-edward-tulane-by-kate-dicamillo

Illustrations in the book by Bigram Ibatoulline

 

Meagan:  Reading this felt like being told a very sweet bedtime story that begins with “Once upon a time there was a toy rabbit who didn’t know how to love.”  Once you read the beginning, you pretty much know it’s going to end up with, “And then he learned how to love.  The End.”  I can forgive it, because the story in the middle is pretty and well-written, but it’s not anywhere near compelling enough to make it onto a favorites list for me.   

 

Eva:   You’re right; this is a sweet, old-fashioned bedtime story with a predictable ending.  And I will even add that a lot of characters seemed like stock characters: the train-hopping hobo, the poor girl with consumption, etc.  BUT, I enjoyed the book overall.  It was beautifully written, and I think it makes a great read-aloud story for parents with kids ages, oh, 3 to 10.  In fact, I heard about this book because a woman I knew said she was reading it out loud to her five and eight year old.  This is the sort of book you could do that with.  It has a classic, story-telling tone and is accompanied by lovely illustrations.  In some ways it reminded me of The Velveteen Rabbit, which I will go into more in a bit.    

I will say one thing about the plot.  It is very simple and episodic.  In one chapter Edward is found by a new owner and experiences life with him/her.  Then, in the next chapter, he loses this new owner and is put in dire circumstances (thrown into the ocean, thrown into a dump, thrown off a train, etc.)  He is found by someone new and the cycle continues.  But again, the simple plot works because it’s DONE SO WELL.  It also works if you are reading the story out loud to younger children who don’t mind a simple plot.  

 

Meagan:  In my opinion, this is a book that adults are more likely to love than kids.  It’s very sentimental and tear-jerking regarding love and relationships and the transient nature of all that is most precious in life.  As a mom, I would definitely cry if I tried to read this to my son.  But, I think it’s the rare child who would embrace this book.  There certainly are some kids for whom a sweet story about love is going to be exactly their cup of tea, but it’s not for most kids.  As a teacher I would not read this to a class, or assign it, for that reason.

 

Eva:  In some ways I agree that this book is too sweet and sentimental and young for older elementary kids, but on the other hand, I remember LOVING The Velveteen Rabbit when I was a kid.  I remember rereading it even when I was in 5th and 6th grade — when I knew it was too young for me.  Now, do I think that The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane will become a classic like The Velveteen Rabbit?  No.  It’s a beautiful little story, but it’s not original enough, in my opinion, to be included in the cannon of classic children’s literature.  That honor can go to two of Dicamillo’s other books:  Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux.     

IMG_0610

Eva & Meagan

 

THIS BOOK REMINDS US OF:

Eva:  As I said, I was reminded of The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (first published in 1922).  They both have that classic, story-telling tone and a heartstring-plucking message.  The Velveteen Rabbit is a bit shorter than Edward Tulane, but for fun, let’s compare the opening lines of the two books:

THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE:  

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a rabbit who was made almost entirely of china.  He had china arms and china legs, china paws and a china head, a china torso and a china nose….

His ears were made of real rabbit fur, and beneath the fur, there were strong, bendable wires, which allowed the ears to be arranged into poses that reflected the rabbit’s mood – jaunty, tired, full of ennui.   

 

THE VELVETEEN RABBIT:  

There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.

 

Rather similar, don’t you think?  As I was reading Edward Tulane, I couldn’t help thinking, “couldn’t she have picked something other than a toy rabbit?  A toy rabbit has already been done!!”   

220px-the_velveteen_rabbit_pg_1

 

THIS BOOK IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF:

  • Classic, story-telling tone
  • Rhythmic, poetic, beautiful language
  • Simple, episodic plot
  • Read-aloud story for younger middle-grade
  • Inanimate object as main character
  • A main character who overcomes a weakness/flaw

 

FINAL TAKE-AWAYS:  

Eva:  A beautifully-written, read-aloud story, but not Dicamillo’s most original;  it will never replace The Velveteen Rabbit as the classic children’s book about a toy rabbit.   

Meagan:  I am tempted to say this is the kind of book you get to write once you’re already an established author.  But on the other hand, I do believe you should write what’s in your heart and not worry too much about what you can or can’t sell as a debut.  You never know.  So, if this kind of story is what’s in your heart, go for it.  If it speaks to you, it will speak to someone else, too.

 

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

One response »

  1. Pingback: My Year in Books: What I Read in 2016 | In the Garden of Eva

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