The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline, 228 pp RL3
I'm sorry, I just didn't like this story. I do, however, like this book. It is gorgeous in presentation, illustration and lay-out. Bagram Ibatoulline is a gifted artist and I hope his work graces the pages of more young adult novels in the future. This is exactly the kind of book that I want to love, but I can't. I put off reading it for over two years because I sensed that Kate DiCamillo borrowed too directly from the wonderful Newbery winner, Hitty: Her First Hundred Years. Written in 1929, it is the story of a wooden doll and her various owners. It seemed to have too much of a splash of The Velveteen Rabbit thrown in as well. I also avoided The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane because I sensed that it was a book with a "life lesson". It is. The many glowing reviews call it a story of love, loss and the power to love again. Or love at all, since Edward the china rabbit does not love Abeline, his dedicated child. Sensing this as well as his arrogant nature, Pellegrina, Abeline's grandmother and the person who commissioned the creation of Edward as a gift for her granddaughter, tells Abeline and Edward a bedtime story about an vain princess who loved no one, was turned into a warthog for this flaw then hunted, shot and cooked. This story is supposed to be a lesson to Edward, a lesson that he should learn to love. But, as Elizabeth Ward, pointedly asks in her 2006 review of this book that ran in the Washington Post, "What child needs to be reminded to love? Why, in any case, demonize a child's natural self-involvement, which is all that's "wrong" with Edward?" I cannot agree more.
Over the course of his miraculous journey Edward is taught to love through suffering, loss and pain, pretty intense stuff to repeat over and over again in a child's story about a fragile, beloved china doll. Edward is tossed overboard during an ocean journey then, almost a year later, caught up in a fishing net and taken home by an old man as a gift for his wife, who renames him Susanna. He is later tossed in the dump by their selfish, jealous, rightgeous adult daughter. He is retrieved from the trash heap and travels with a hobo and his dog until he is thrown off a train. He serves as a scarecrow and is hung up, looking like he is crucified on a cross (there is an illustration of this very scene) until a boy steals him for his dying little sister. When Sara Ruth, the little girl dies, Edward wants to die with her, and he almost does. But her brother Bryce takes him along as he flees from his abusive, often absent, drunk father. Edward then has his head smashed into 21 pieces by an angry diner owner when Bryce can't pay his bill. Desperate and in tears, the boy trades Edward to an antique doll repairer and dealer who, cruelly, will not even let the boy hold Edward one last time after he is fixed. Edward spends quite a long time on the shelf of the shop, restored to his former grandeur. Edward is transformed - given new clothes and a new name - by every person who has possessed him. While on the shelf, Edward talks to a doll who tells him to "be awash in hope. You must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next." And, wonder of wonders, Abeline herself, all grown up and mother to a little girl, walks into the shop and, of course, because Edward has learned to love and be awash in hope, Abeline's little girl is instantly drawn to him and his miraculous journey comes to an end.
I strongly caution you, as parents or adults giving books to children, to read this book or read the whole review in the Washington Post, before handing it over to a child. What message do you want to convey to the child and, more importantly, what message will a child take away from this book? I really do not think that children will read it and get that it is about learning to love and the importance of loving others. Maybe a story about a dog or another living creature, or even another person would convey this message better, but not a story about a vain china doll. I do think that children will come away from it with a fear of the cruelty that adults can exact on those with less power than them. Even Roald Dahl has the decency to punish his rotten adults and selfish children. DiCamillo only punishes Edward, over and over again.