MMGM and #IMWAYR: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (a re-review)

Hello everyone! If you're reading this on Monday, I'd like to wish you a happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! This past college semester, I took a class where we read King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, and he made a very profound point that I wanted to share. He discussed people's insistence that Black people just remain "patient" and wait for change to arrive naturally, before pointing out that change does not, in fact, just arrive over time—it takes specific actions on the part of the public to make it happen. I think so many of us nowadays sometimes feel like we need to be patient and allow change to be made incrementally, but we can see that the decades and decades Black people waited for change actually resulted in stagnancy and no change until they started a movement in the 1960s. I think it's worth remembering with many of today's issues that maybe we don't need to wait for change at all—maybe we need to demand change now, because that may be the only effective way to obtain it.

Also, before I dive into the post, I wanted to repeat something I discussed last week for my MMGM audience—the excellent MG graphic novel El Deafo has been adapted into an animated miniseries! You can read my thoughts here.

For MMGM and #IMWAYR, I am re-reviewing a truly incredible MG novel that I reviewed several years ago: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline.

My original review of this book wasn't awful, but I had been wanting to re-read it, and since my current reading plan involves a lot of YA books, I wanted to make sure to stop by MMGM with some new content before I returned to posting on #IMWAYR only in the next few weeks.

And I will also add that this is my first post using a relatively more concise format—I'll be trying it out in some future posts as well, and I hope it makes reading my reviews a little bit less exhausting!

There's a newer version of the cover,
but I like the old cover (and am too lazy
to upload a new image), so here it is.

Edward Tulane is a rabbit made out of china. He is breakable, yes, and he cannot move or blink or speak, being inanimate. But he is owned by a girl named Abilene who cares for him, dressing him in the fanciest clothes and bringing him to the dinner table (where he ignores the bland conversation and the mild condescension from Abilene's parents). Abilene loves him, and I imagine he can understand why, because he thinks very highly of himself.

But a warning from Abilene's slightly-terrifying grandmother is just the start of what's to come. Because Edward gets lost.

Edward's journey once he is separated from Abilene is every bit as miraculous as the title would make you think. He cannot move or blink or speak, yet the world finds ways to keep him going from one place to the next. But it's a bit of a cyclical journey. Many people find him—beautiful, broken people, who are affected by him though he cannot speak, and who affect him in return though his heart is closed off. But Edward is torn from these people, again and again, sent back to hopeless places where the months turn into years, places where the stars in the sky are his only companion.

And you'd think that being separated from those people wouldn't be a problem. After all, Edward keeps his heart closed off, and cares only about himself. He'll get through it...right?

Well, there's just one problem. Those people? They just might have found a way through to Edward's heart. And now they're gone.

Edward Tulane has just learned to love. But when he sees how quickly those he loves can be torn from him, when he can neither move nor blink nor speak to do something about it, when his heart is made full but then broken almost beyond repair...

Can he find the strength in him to love again?

I first read this book in an unusual situation. I was in middle school, on a college campus where I had just taken a giant spelling test for an interscholastic competition. After the test, we had to wait hours and hours for them to grade the tests and announce the results. So my family and I wandered over to the college bookstore to wait, and I of course looked around and found a copy of this book. And while sitting there waiting for test results, I read it in 2 hours flat.

Those competitions were a major part of my childhood. And yet there's something fascinating that I barely remember the months of prep or the tests themselves, but sitting in a bookstore reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is something I can still call to memory. And having read it once again this year, now that I am in college, I realized that there truly is something about this book that calls to me, again and again.

One thing that strikes me about this book is how different it is from most MG literature. This is not a dramatic fantasy adventure. This is not a contemporary novel full of bullies and banter and texting. Yes, the elements of grief in this book are reminiscent of other MG books, but here, they are meaningful and impactful, rather than the obligatory dead-parents trope that other authors think is the only possible conflict you can include in an MG book.

But the biggest difference between this book and other MG books is that the protagonist is not a middle-grader. The protagonist is a rabbit. And an inanimate rabbit at that. And I think this difference shows something Kate DiCamillo understands that other authors do not: A book does not have to be about kids to be written for them.

In many ways, yes, this book is very mature as far as MG books go, with its ideas of love and loss and loving after loss. But that's not a bad thing, for two reasons. One is that this book can grow with you. Re-reading this book now, I found myself noticing new things I had never understood before (including some parallels that were so obvious now, I could hardly believe even my younger self had missed them). If you read this book, you'll see that it is startlingly accessible to young readers, but the few parts that aren't will become accessible with time.

And the other thing that benefits this book is Kate DiCamillo's writing style. Which is absolutely fascinating, for several reasons. One is that, at least in this book, DiCamillo is startlingly concise. This book has few pages, widely-spaced lines, and large font. It's a short book. And yet DiCamillo takes us to countless different locations (and emotional states) in just those pages, in large part because she knows how to use the fewest words possible to evoke something. And that also means she can encapsulate pretty much any emotion or theme in the story in just a few short, accessible sentences.

DiCamillo's writing style is intriguing for more reasons. She writes this story almost as though she were telling it. There's a bit of a distance between the third-person narrator and Edward Tulane, a distance that dulls the raw pain and draws readers in, but nevertheless manages to pack an emotional punch when necessary. (Did I mention that I almost cried twice re-reading this book when (a) I almost never cry and (b) I've literally read this book before?)

DiCamillo uses this distance, this story-like style that seems as though she is reading aloud to the reader, to add a bit of levity as well—she reminds me a bit of my favorite author of all time, Rebecca Stead, in that both authors write with a serious tone, but they sparingly use their seriousness for a comic effect when necessary. All of these things put together make this book one that young readers will connect to just as much as older readers, like myself.

There are a few other things I want to mention about this book. First, there is something striking about how naturally DiCamillo writes from the perspective of a protagonist who is literally incapable of doing...well, anything. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Edward can neither move nor blink nor speak. He cannot really interact with his world at all. And yet, he can, in some ways. Edward has the ability to listen, and somehow, people get a sense that he is listening, though he of course cannot convey that himself. He still manages to have an effect on people, just as they have an effect on him.

And Edward, of course, is not passive inside—this entire story is all about how he changes and grows emotionally and mentally, so he's hardly just sitting around and letting the world wash over him.

But also...there is something fitting about Edward not being able to interact with the world. Grief and loss is as painful as it is precisely because we cannot control it. We cannot reach out into the world and grab it and stop it from happening. What better way to explore something we cannot control than to have a protagonist who can control nothing—absolutely nothing—in his own life, except how he feels about it? It's brilliant.

One more major comment before I conclude: Edward is a sparkling, memorable protagonist, but the other characters in this world will worm their way into your heart as well. Whether it's a young girl with a terrible cough or an older man traveling from place to place with his dog, DiCamillo crafts individuals who feel so human, who embody the beauty and pain of this world when both are at their strongest. And she does so with so few words—it is amazing how she develops such meaningful characters with such concision, and just a few key details.

And I'll also add that little themes sneak their way into the characters of this story and add even depth—it may not be intentional, but I don't think it's a complete coincidence that Edward comes from a rich family and learns love and humility from people of dramatically lower classes, and harder lives.

If this story is about Edward learning to love, then DiCamillo needed to craft characters who readers loved too, who changed the readers' hearts just as they changed Edward's. And she does that so spectacularly well that it is hard to believe it actually happened.

I'll conclude with this. There's something, at first glance, inherently contradictory about re-reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. After all, if the entire theme of this book is that we can learn to move on, and find beauty and love once again...then shouldn't I move on instead of lingering in this same story I've read several times already?

But if you think about it more, re-reading this book is actually kind of perfect. Because Edward doesn't just forget the things that happened to him, the people he met. Those things changed him. He carries those memories with him, always, whether consciously or simply in the very fabric of his being. Those moments may have ended, but he can revisit them, whenever he wants, through his memories. Just like I did when I re-read this book, when I revisited these people, these places, this rabbit, these feelings of hope and despair—and hope in the face of despair. All of these things have ended, and yet, though it took me some time to realize it, they are a part of me now, just like they are for Edward.

And I encourage you to find a copy of this book and let all of those things become a part of you too.

My rating is: Stunning!



Comments

  1. Ah, one of my favorites!! We listened to this on audio on a road trip when our sons were 9 and 12, and all four of us were captivated by Edward and his journey! I agree - this book in particular shows off Kate DiCamillo's amazing talents as a writer, though we loved every book of hers that we read together (and the ones I read later, after my sons had outgrown her).

    So glad you gave such loving attention to one of my favorites!

    Sue

    Book By Book

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  2. I read this one too and really enjoyed it. Glad you did too. And Letter from Birmingham Jail sound like an awesome read for a college class. I agree with what you said about the need to for change and how slow it's all going.

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  3. Thanks for sharing. Now added to my TBR. I discovered this author only a month ago, with Th Beatryce Prophecy, which I enjoyed a lot. So will get this one next time I go to the library.
    In today's post, I have a famous classic Japanese middle grade: https://wordsandpeace.com/2022/01/09/sunday-post-48-1-8-2022/

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  4. Have a wonderful week!!
    http://www.kellydenisereads.com

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  5. It is a favorite of mine, too, & now I might pull it from the shelf to do my own re-read. I like your ending very much, that re-visiting through memories. I have lately been trying to go through many boxes of photos, worrying over what to keep & what I and my grown children do have, in their memories! It's not easy! Also, Max, I wrote a poem about waiting for Poetry Friday. Considering your words about Dr. King, you may enjoy it? Thanks for the review, reminder of the wonder of Kate DiCamillo!

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  6. I adore anything Kate DiCamillo writes but Edward Tulane is one of my favorites. Our fourth grade ELA curriculum includes an author study of Kate DiCamillo and Edward Tulane is the read aloud. I love returning to a well loved book and your thoughts are on point. Rereading a beloved book is like being wrapped in a warm hug.

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  7. I have never read this book and it sounds like I need to do so. I adore Kate DiCamillo but have missed this story. Now that I know more about the story, I'll get a copy. It has so much heart.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  8. I can't believe that I haven't read this book yet! Thanks for bringing it back into the conversation.

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  9. I always enjoy Kate DiCamillo's books and this was one of my favorites. You reminded me a re-read could be in order. Thanks for sharing the important message on MLK Day and for doing so on MMGM.

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  10. Thank you for your thoughtful, in depth review. I always enjoy reading you perspective.
    I enjoyed Edward Tulane and had a set for lit circles when I was in the library. That said, I think I only read it a couple of times.
    I really appreciate that you have captured the mastery of Kate DiCamillo's writing. I adored The Magician's Elephant, another book that doesn't fit what we think readers might like. I had a lit circle set and grade 6/7 readers were always taken by the depth and richness of it.
    Now that I am older, I have come to adore DiCamillo's Deckawoo Drive series about old folks.

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  11. I love the STUNNING rating! I should amend my rating categories to reflect something like that - how affirming! :)
    Have you read the Rancheros series of Kate DiCamillo - read the three books during the height of the pandemic, and it was sooo therapeutic. DiCamillo indeed weaves magic through her words. :)

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  12. I'm impressed the author can pull off a story so well starring an inanimate china rabbit! I haven't read any of her work, though The Beatryce Prophecy is on my TBR. Must watch out for this one. Thanks for the review!

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  13. I came late to this one and wasn't a huge fan. Students will occasionally ask for it, but it seems like more of an elementary book to me. I can see the appeal; I just don't feel it. Glad you have good memories of it!

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  14. I really appreciated the important point you shared about sitting by patiently, waiting for change to happy. It so often takes a revolution, even if we hope it can remain a peaceful one. ❤️

    I've had friends talk about re-reading old favorites from their childhood and being sorely disappointed now that they read it with adult eyes. I'm so glad you didn't experience that. I recently put in a request for one of my favorite reads, but I admit I'm nervous it won't live up to the pedestal I've placed it on all these years. If I'm brave enough, I'll share the experience after I get a chance to re-read it.

    I never read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, but I have been interested in the parallels I've seen discussed between it and The Velveteen Rabbit (which was my dad's favorite picture book, as a child). After your recommendation, I'd love to pick up a copy this year. I mean, if you've re-read it several times, that says a lot (at least it would for me since I so rarely re-read books). Kate DiCamillo is such a treasure to the world of children's literature. I've enjoyed a number of her books and then just flew through the Deckawoo Drive series, last summer. Thanks for this thorough review and for sharing your personal experiences with this story, Max!

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  15. What a lovely, thoughtful review. Thanks for that. There are books that demand to be read again and again. This is one. Also thanks for your first paragraph. You are correct. We cannot just sit back and be patient. We need to demand change and now. Not just for our minority populations, but for everyone who believes in democracy.

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