Monday, June 17, 2013

A Miraculous Journey is About to Begin (Or: My New Favorite Children's Book of All Time)

"This achingly beautiful story shows a true master of writing at her very best."--- School Library Journal (starred review)

 Awhile back, I promised I'd tell you about an amazing book. And then I didn't. Because my kiddos are on summer vacation now, you all, and we be busy!

But here I am. And so I will. Or I will try.

Earlier this spring, in an everyday chat about what was going on in first grade, Genevieve mentioned that her teacher, Mrs. V____, was reading a chapter book called The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as the class's current "read-aloud." When she said that, Julia piped up, "Oh! Mrs. H___ read that to our class when I was in first grade, too." They both agreed the book was very good.

As the days passed, every now and then Vivi would mention that they were still reading Edward Tulane, or almost done with it, or that it was so good. I had never heard of it and didn't even know it was a Kate DiCamillo (famous, Newberry-Award-winning children's author who happens to live in Minnesota). I didn't even know that Edward Tulane, the title character, was a toy china rabbit, not a person.

Fast forward a week or two. Just by chance, a friend of mine, fellow member of Julia's and my third-grade mother-daughter book club, picked The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane for our group's next read. I still didn't know a thing about it, other than the fact that both girls warned me, "It's kind of sad. There's this part about Sarah-Ruth. That's sad. But it's so good!"

Julia and I checked Edward Tulane out of the public library, a glossy, gorgeous hardback with an intriguing cover illustration and the most beautiful, haunting pictures amidst the chapters inside, and she read it in a few days. Then it was my turn.

I could tell, just by holding it in my hands, that this book was special. The print, the illustrations, the chapter headings--everything was aesthetically beautiful. It had a quiet, graceful feeling to it. It was certainly about as far from the Mercy Watson books (also by Kate DiCamillo) as one could imagine.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is the story of a toy china rabbit owned by a little girl who adores him completely, but who loses him in a dramatic scene that launches him on his ultimately miraculous journey. Edward starts out self-involved and vain and unable to love anyone but himself, but his decades-long journey changes him profoundly.

I won't tell you more; Edward's experiences (both physical/external and emotional/internal) are unexpected and powerful and need to be experienced by the reader along with him as she reads his story. But just know that this book is truly one for readers of all ages, and it is much more sophisticated and delicate than the typical children's book. You will likely love it. Genevieve's first-grade class voted it their favorite "read-aloud" of the entire school year.

I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane over the course of two evenings. I CRIED MY EYES OUT.

And not just over the part about Sarah-Ruth--the obvious tragic part of the book, the part that small children would recognize as sad. I cried also over all the other poignant "philosophical nuances," as one book reviewer put it, that run through Edward's story---the themes that only adults, and older children (perhaps with some grown-ups' nudgings) would notice and comprehend. The themes of redemption through (and the transformative power of) love, prevailing despite and through despair, the beautiful brutality of life, the way faith can get you through, even if you hardly know it's there deep inside you.

I literally sobbed, you guys. I had to put the book aside more than once and go back to it after a break.

A few days later, Genevieve was home from school, sick with a terrible ear infection, and we spent much of the day on my bed, me reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane aloud to her because even though they'd just finished it at school, she wanted to hear it again. Of course I cried. Genevieve understood, but she also thought I was a little bit crazy. I had to ask her, "Honey, did Mrs. V. cry when she read this to your class? I cannot imagine anyone being able to read this aloud with crying!" Genevieve swore that Mrs. V. didn't cry--that she "got sad," but did not cry. Therefore only Mama was the crazy one crying her eyes out reading Edward Tulane out loud.

But I had to know. I emailed her teacher--with whom I am quite close because a.) she's awesome and b.) I volunteered with the class during the year so had a lot of contact with her--and asked her the same question: HOW could you read Edward Tulane to the class without crying? Did you really do it? This book is AMAZING! It's the best children's book ever!

Mrs. V. wrote back and said, It IS the best book ever. It is a beautiful, wonderful book. No, I didn't cry. I got choked up, but I didn't cry. But I swear to you, if I had been reading it by myself at home, I would have been CRYING OUT LOUD.

Amen, sister. (LOVE HER!!!) Perhaps I'm not so crazy after all.

Just when I'd pulled it together and felt ready to discuss Edward Tulane at book club without appearing a blubbering fool, the last day of school came, and Mrs. V. sent home an end-of-the-year letter to families in which she invoked the class's reading of Edward Tulane as a defining moment in their first-grade year:

We, in room 104, she wrote, have been on a miraculous journey this year as well. We have learned that books can take us to far off places and times, teach us things we want to know, and sometimes lessons we need to learn...   We've learned that everyone makes mistakes and most of them don't matter, but when they do, we need to make it right and learn from them. And like Edward, we've learned to care about each other.

It isn't possible for all we've learned to be reflected on a report card. It is my sincerest hope that the most important lessons will grow and develop as your child continues on the miraculous journey of becoming who they are meant to be. 

Thank you, with all my heart, for sharing your child with me this year. 

With a (very bittersweet) smile, 
Mrs. V. 

And then I became a blubbering mess all over again.

Parenting is a miraculous journey too, of course. It certainly involves the opening of one's heart, the risk and reward of loving someone else so profoundly that it goes far beyond, and deeper than, any other type of love you've felt before. It involves change and growth as a person, perseverance and faith, mistakes and redemption. All those things. And if you're like me, it might involve tears in the face of the end-of-year first grade letter. That's just part of the journey too.

I hope you read Edward Tulane and experience his miraculous journey and hold it close to your heart. I guarantee you won't be sorry. (But if you are, don't tell me because I will not understand and I will secretly doubt your humanity.)

Happy summer reading, mamas.  

1 comment:

Questionable Housekeeping said...

Thanks for the recommendation. Just last night I finished reading Fantastic Mr. Fox to my daughter for the second time. I'm putting a library hold for this one today!