Jan 8, 2013
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
So once we had a few honest-to-goodness chapter books under our belt, I brought out my "baby."
And, unfortunately, it was not met with the same kind of unwavering high regard and love I held for it. The themes were just a little mature for a four-year-old and a two-year-old. I'll explain in a minute.
Edward Tulane is a exquisitely handsome china rabbit. He is owned by Abilene, a small girl who treats him as a real person and her very dearest friend. She loves Edward so much. But Edward is selfish and conceited and doesn't care one bit for Abilene's love. In fact, he finds it rather stifling. Then one day, an unfortunate accident takes place which lands Edward at the bottom of the ocean, permanently separating him from Abilene. Over the years, Edward gets passed from owner to owner, and each time, his heart opens up a little more until he finally understands what it means to truly love someone. But then he also learns what it means to have your heart broken.
I loved this book just as much as when I first read it. Edward is such an interesting main character, partly because he really is a toy. He doesn't come to life when the humans are out of sight. He is stiff and immovable and doesn't talk (but the reader does know his thoughts). And yet, he is still very real with his own emotions and weaknesses and personality.
My boys didn't hate it by an means. They just didn't love it as much as Charlotte's Web or The Cricket in Times Square (which have been their two favorites, so far). Here are some of the reasons why it was a harder book for them:
1. They would have liked more pictures. There was a small picture at the beginning of each chapter, but it was often something not terribly interesting (an empty highchair or a hat or an umbrella). Then there was a full page picture every 2-4 chapters. So, not terribly often, and I think it was especially difficult for Maxwell to focus without something to train his eyes on. However, I definitely don't pick the books we read based on the number of pictures, and several of the ones we want to read next don't have pictures any more frequently. That's okay, they're getting better at visualizing on their own, which is what I want anyway.
2. The china rabbit was difficult to conceptualize, especially for Max. It would have been much easier for him to think of Edward as a real rabbit, which I think is how he thought of him most of the time anyway.
3. The themes of love and loss were a bit mature. At the beginning of the story, Abilene's grandmother, Pellegrina, tells a story about a princess who loved no one and consequently ended up being turned into a warthog and butchered by the castle's cook. The story is told for Edward's benefit because Pellegrina can see that, just like the princess, he also doesn't love anyone. Edward doesn't understand the story at first, but after he loses Abilene, he begins to see the value of love. With each subsequent owner, he loves a little bit more, and each time he is separated from the one he had grown to love, the pain hurts a little bit more as well.
My boys are young. Their experience with love and loss is limited. They feel the love of many around them, and they definitely love their family and friends, but thankfully, they haven't had to cope with much loss. So I don't think they could really understand or appreciate the beautiful pacing of this book as Edward's character grows. Nor did they feel their own hearts tugged with similar emotions the way I did.
4. There are also some mature scenes. These were things I never even thought of when I was reading it myself, but suddenly, reading it to my little boys, I wanted to shield them from the brutality and neglect of the alcoholic father, soften the sadness of Sarah Ruth's death, hide the hurt of Bryce's extreme poverty and loneliness, and keep them safe from the violence of the diner's owner. This is a children's book, so all the events I just mentioned are told about in a simple way with very little description, but sometimes, even with few words, it is hard to mask the harsh realities of life.
Beyond these things though, we had some really fun moments while reading this book, particularly while we were in Colorado with my family and had enough time to snuggle up and read several chapters at a time. While we were reading, there were a couple of funny moments I can't help sharing:
At the end of one chapter, after Edward has just been kicked out of a train and had a tumble down a long hill, there was this sentence: "A lone cricket started up a song." Max piped in to ask, "Was that Chester?" (meaning, Chester, from The Cricket in Times Square). I just thought that was such a cute assumption.
And then, one of Edward's owners is a little boy named Bryce. For some reason, Max became fixated on this name, and he didn't like it. Anytime I said his name, Max had to add his two cents: "Bryce is a yucky name. I don't like it." Kids are so funny sometimes.
But speaking of Bryce, let me tell you, practically nothing tugs on my heartstrings more than a little lonely boy, especially a little boy with too much responsibility on his shoulders and not a friend in the world, which is what Bryce is. It's always been this way for me, even before I had little boys of my own. I have wanted to weep on more than one occasion when I have observed young boys who have been given a hard lot in life.
Anyway, I would still recommend this book. It is for sure one of my favorites of all time. But I would say, if you want to read it to your children, it might be good to save it until they are at least in kindergarten.
This post is linked to The Children's Bookshelf and the Kid Lit Blog Hop.