I bought this book for my children on the recommendation of Ann Patchett. In her most recent essay collection, These Precious Days, Patchett details her introduction to the work of DiCamillo and how she devoured her work, even though it is written for children and Patchett has no children of her own. She wrote so beautifully about these books that I was eager to read them for myself. The girls and I have read all of the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo and enjoyed them – they are goofy and fun – and so I thought this might make a great gift for Pearl’s 7th birthday.
We recently read it together as a bedtime chapter book. The book is short with short chapters and didn’t take us long to get through. Which was good because at the end of every chapter I think we all wanted to know what was going to happen next. This book was not goofy and fun. It was heart-wrenching and beautiful and very, very sad. I spent a lot of it wondering if it was too much for my two little girls, particularly Pearl who tends to be very sensitive.
Edward Tulane is a china rabbit. He belongs to a little girl named Abilene and lives a refined, sedate life. Abilene loves Edward very much but Edward loves no one. When Edward is lost one day, he begins a long and perilous journey. One that brings him into the lives of a travelling train-rider, an elderly couple living by the sea, and a little girl for whom Edward dances. Edward has a lot to learn about life and love but will he allow his heart to break in order to learn?
The story is, ultimately one of hope and has the sort of ending you might hope for but, my goodness, there is a lot of sadness along the way. The timeframe is unspecified but it has an old-fashioned feel that made it easy to imagine the events occurring during the Depression – the travel by ship, the train-hopping, the poverty and neglect of one particular household. I imagine DiCamillo was inspired at least a little by The Velveteen Rabbit, a book that is especially powerful to me now. If you’ve followed along for a bit or know Rose in real life, you probably know that she has a beloved stuffed beaver named Justin. If ever a stuffie was loved enough to be real, it’s Justin Beaver. So it was easy for me to picture that special relationship between a little girl and her toy as DiCamillo brought it to life.
In the end, I don’t regret reading Edward Tulane with my girls. If I had read it first, I probably would have waited to read it with them but I think much of it hit me harder than it did for them. As Patchett says, DiCamillo is a beautiful writer and there are lessons here for readers of all ages. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane takes its place among such beautiful and terrible children’s classics as The Velveteen Rabbit, Where the Red Fern Grows, or Bridge to Terabithia.