Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Kate DeCamillo does it again

I don't know how she does it, but Kate DeCamillo has done it again. She has written a book that is even better than her last, and I swore that The Tale of Despereaux was as good a children's book as one could ever write. But, The Miraculous Journey of Edwad Tulane is, if such a thing is possible, even better. To begin with, her publisher, Candlewick Press obviously understands that they are working with someone special. The production values are of the highest quality, with beautiful paper, an elegant and sophisticated design, and illustrations of art gallery quality by Bagram Ibatoulline. Mind you, I am reviewing from the advance reading copy with only one of several colour plates included, and I still say this.

The story itself will move you to tears; quite a feat since the main character is a china rabbit that stands about three feet tall with china legs and arms jointed with wire so that he could move. "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--juanty, tired full of ennui...In all, Edward Tulane felt himself to be an exceptional specimen."

Imagine an arrogant china rabbit so full of himself that he is cabable of feeling only boredom with the little girl who loves him. I can hear your disbelief already. But believe me when I say, that DiCamillo is a magician. Before the first chapter is done, you will be hooked. Edward Tulane will be as real to you as Abilene, his owner. This is how DiCamillo characterizes Edward. "Of all the seasons of the year, the rabbit most preferred winter, for the sun set early then and the dining-room windows became dark and Edward could see his own reflection in the glass. And what a reflection it was! What an elegant fiure he cut! Edward never ceased to be amazed at his own fineness."

Now imagine a grandmother (Abilene's) wise enough to foretell a life of misadventure for one so empty-hearted as Edward. Imagine a sea vogage where Edward is lost overboard, where he is finally found by a fisherman and brought home to his wife, Nellie. This time Edward's arrogance is checked by the stirrings of love. While before, Abilene bored him, now when his new owner speaks, Edward discovers that "...now, the stories Nellie told him struck him as the most important thing in the world and he listened as if his life depended on what she said."

But Edward's journey isn't over yet. He will find and lose love again and again until both he and the reader will wonder if he could ever open his heart again. He is tossed into a garbage heap, accompanies a hobo and his dog on an endess journey that leads nowhere, used as a scarecrow, dances for a dying child, and is smashed in a diner. His head is repaired by a doll mender, but can his broken heart ever be mended? By this point, you will be as touched by the stirrings of love as Edward, and as just as devestated by his losses. It's that DiCamillo magic; simple, elegant prose with as much said between the lines as is said in them. The themes are big, but DiCamillo handles them deftly and simply.

A word of warning though. One of Ibatoulline's illustrations has stirred up a fair bit of controversy. It depicts Edward as a scare crow and reverberates with religious overtones. Although it was not included in the advance reading copy, I have seen the published version and found it quite powerful. Although I did not, some might find this particular image offensive. By the end of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, you will be, like Edward, saying, "...yes, yes, yes. This is definately one of those stories that will take you on a journey worth going on.


Maggie said...

"and I swore that The Tale of Despereaux was as good a children's book as one could ever write."

I'm just like you. That's exactly what I thought about 'Despereaux'. Now, I *must* read about Edward Tulane! :)

readingkidsbooks said...

Can't wait for her next. You just know it's going to be fabulous.