Books Are Pretty

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a rabbit who was made almost entirely of china. He had china arms and china legs, china paws and a china head, a china torso and a china nose. His arms and legs were jointed and joined by wire so that his china elbows and china knees could be bent, giving him much freedom of movement.
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 — jaunty, tired, full of ennui. His tail, too, was made of real rabbit fur and was fluffy and soft and well shaped.
The rabbit’s name was Edward Tulane, and he was tall. He measured almost three feet from the tip of his ears to the tip of his feet; his eyes were painted a penetrating and intelligent blue.
In all, Edward Tulane felt himself to be an exceptional specimen. Only his whiskers gave him pause. They were long and elegant (as they should be), but they were of uncertain origin. Edward felt quite strongly that they were not the whiskers of a rabbit. Whom the whiskers had belonged to initially — what unsavory animal — was a question that Edward could not bear to consider for too long. And so he did not. He preferred, as a rule, not to think unpleasant thoughts.
Edward’s mistress was a ten-year-old, dark-haired girl named Abilene Tulane, who thought almost as highly of Edward as Edward thought of himself.

Reader, did you know that The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is the newest book by Kate DiCamillo, author of Because of Winn Dixie and the 2004 Newbery Award winner Despereaux?*

I’m starting to think this Kate person has a knack for writing children’s books or something.

I didn’t think she would be able to top Despereaux, and maybe Edward Tulane is better and maybe it isn’t, but Despereaux, for whatever reason, didn’t kick my ass as hard as Edward Tulane did.

Edward Tulane, as you may have surmised from the above excerpt, is a large china rabbit, a toy handcrafted especially for a wealthy little girl, Abilene. Abilene is very proud of Edward, and loves him with all her heart. Edward, however, does not feel the same way about her. In fact, he considers her expressions of love to be pointless and annoying, as it gets in the way of his narcissism. However, Abilene’s grandmother, Pelligrina, is onto him, and does not like the way he takes her granddaughter’s love for granted.

On the night before the Tulane family takes a voyage on the Queen Mary, Pelligrina tells Abilene and Edward a bedtime story about a princess who cannot love. The princess encounters a witch, who, after speaking with the princess for awhile, remarks, “You disappoint me.”

At the story’s conclusion, Pelligrina tucks Edward into bed, and whispers ominously into his large floppy ear, “You disappoint me.”

“I think that Grandma’s up to something,” remarked Christopher last night, and indeed she was. Edward ends up flying overboard the Queen Mary on the second day of their ocean voyage, and sinks to the bottom of the sea, where he remains for almost a year.

I usually read about three chapters of a book a night to Christopher, depending on the length of the chapters. One chapter for the Harry Potter books, as many as five for Captain Underpants or Junie B. Jones. That night, we read ten chapters of Edward Tulane. Christopher fell asleep in the middle of chapter ten, but I left the light on and kept reading. Reader, I have never done this before.

After Christopher fell asleep, a storm stirred up the bottom of the ocean floor, and lifted Edward to the surface, where he was caught in a fisherman’s net. The fisherman takes the rabbit home and gives him to his wife, Nellie. Although Nellie mistakes Edward for a girl, renaming him Susannah, and sews him several pretty pink dresses, Edward surprises himself by not caring. Anything is better than being at the bottom of the ocean, he thinks. He stays with the elderly couple for a long time, sitting in a wooden high chair at the dinner table, looking up at the night sky with the fisherman, sitting on the kitchen counter with Nellie while she bakes, and begins to feel affection for them in his little china heart. But this idyllic time cannot last, and one day their brassy daughter Lolly comes to visit. Lolly is angered by the affection her parents are showing Edward, and throws him in the garbage.

He is taken to the city dump, and lies under a pile of garbage for 40 days, thinking about love, and repeating the names of the people who have loved him: Abilene, Nellie, Lawrence, Abilene, Nellie, Lawrence. Finally, he is dug up by a dog, Lucy, and dropped at the feet of her owner, a homeless man named Bull. Bull keeps Edward and renames him Malone, and soon Edward learns to ride the rails with the pair. When Bull and Lucy first show up at the hobo camps with Edward, the other hoboes make fun of Bull and his “dolly,” but when Bull doesn’t seem to mind the teasing, the hoboes begin to feel drawn to Edward.

Finally, one of the hoboes, Jack, asks if he can hold Edward. When Bull passes Edward over to Jack’s lap, Jack leans forward and whispers into Edward’s ear: “Helen...and Jack Junior and Taffy - she's the baby. Those are my kids' names. They are all in North Carolina. You ever been to North Carolina? It's a pretty state. That's where the are. Helen. Jack Junior. Taffy. You remember their names, okay, Malone?"

Soon all the hoboes are whispering the names of their children into his ears, and Edward understands, because he knows what it is like to repeat the names of the people in your life who have loved you and whom you have loved. Edward has become a very different sort of rabbit from the haughty and vain creature who once lived in the house on Egypt Street.

Here is where I started to cry, and I cried through every chapter and every new situation Edward found himself in. By the end, I was choking back sobs so loud I can’t believe I didn’t wake Christopher up. I have to tell you I’m sitting here at my desk at work typing this and I have big fat tears rolling down my cheeks right now! It’s horrible! I can’t help it! This book is killing me!

I finally turned off the light and tiptoed out of his room and downstairs. When I walked into the family room, Steve looked over at me and said with concern, “What’s wrong?!”

When I told him, he gave me the look you give people who have suddenly announced that they’re Napolean Bonaparte, and “What’s wrong?” became “What’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to get through this story with the boys,” I sobbed, “I think you’re going to have to take over. We’re on Chapter 10.”

“I can’t believe,” he said, after I’d tearfully recapped the story for him, choking up so badly at parts I couldn’t even get the words out, “that after all the books you’ve read, you’re getting this upset about such a straightforward, old-fashioned story.”

He’s right, it is old-fashioned and straightforward. It's an old-fashioned book with beautifully old-fashioned illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline, that are laid out in an old-fashioned way. It's just an old tale of a heartless little prince who goes on a grand journey and learns the importance of love. But as the poet says, it’s not the tale; it’s the way it’s told, and Kate DiCamillo told it in a way that broke my little china heart.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
By Kate DiCamillo
December, 2007 by Candlewick Press
228 pages, paperback
ISBN: 0763639877

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