MMGM and #IMWAYR: The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo
I must say, this semester of college is keeping me in a perpetual state of chaos. I haven't let that stop my blog before, and I won't let it do so now...but if I post comments on your blog that are completely incoherent, blame it on my exhaustion. It's very strange, because some seriously wonderful things are happening—it's just that so much is happening that I don't have time for much else!
Also, please visit this post from last week so you can see a very important article by Nikole Hannah-Jones that will change the way you think about racism (and as I've since learned, it's immensely controversial among certain individuals who I don't agree with, which means you really need to read it!).
Moving along, I'd like to discuss an absolutely gorgeous MG novel by an author I think we all know and love (I've adored so many of her books, most recently The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane). Today I am reviewing The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by Sophie Blackall. My review is short, but that feels somewhat fitting for this book...so let's dive in!
Kate DiCamillo starts this story off with a goat. A feisty goat—some might say terrifying—with a hard head that she is quite fond of smacking into other people. Her name is Answelica, and she has the monks of the Chronicles of Sorrowing wrapped around her thumb. And you will love her. (She is so fully realized that I think DiCamillo is slightly trolling us all—she can better characterize a goat than many authors can characterize a human being.)
From Answelica, we arrive at the Chronicles of Sorrowing, and specifically, one monk named Brother Edik. Brother Edik has a hand that delicately writes important prophecies. He has a mind that echoes with insults once lobbed toward him. He has an eye that has a tendency to roll around in his head. He has a pocket filled with maple candies. And most importantly of all, he has a heart with a tremendous capacity to love. (Oh, and skipping back a second, the name and description of Brother Edik's "wandering eye" probably doesn't match today's more accepting parlance for such conditions, but trust me, DiCamillo makes clear that despite the thoughts of some, Brother Edik's eye is a strength.)
And from Brother Edik, we arrive at a young girl who lacks as much as she possesses. She lacks a home, with Brother Edik finding her clinging desperately to Answelica outside the monastery. And she lacks her memories, except for her name...Beatryce. But she possesses an unbreakable spirit. She possesses open eyes and an open heart. And she possesses knowledge that just might change the world...but the problem is, some people don't want it to change. And they're searching for her.
Like many of Kate DiCamillo's books, this is a story of simple things. It is a story of seahorses, and dreams, and a very specific hairbrush, and people with names so wonderful, they almost don't need personalities (Granny Bibspeak—need I say more?). It is a story of swords, and bees, and peacefulness, and beautiful illustrations by Sophie Blackall that remind us of this story's medieval roots (even as it remains quintessentially Kate DiCamillo above all else).
And like many of Kate DiCamillo's books, this is a story of deeply, deeply complex things. It is a story of stories, and how much they change us. It is a story of words, of language, and how the most dangerous thing is when we are rid of the ability to communicate. It is a story of people who are cruel, and how we spend so much time thinking about them when all they are is foolish. It is a story of memories that we hide, and prophecies that hide things from us. It is a story of how fierceness isn't just for hate, but also for love (this particular theme may or may not involve an aforementioned goat and her "tremendous smell of goat"). It is a story of things that we know, but do not feel—and thus as familiar as these ideas sound, DiCamillo nevertheless presents them to us in an entirely new way.
Some children's authors seem to believe that children need simple stories, and they write accordingly. Others believe that children deserve stories as complex as many of those for adults. Neither of those strategies is wrong, but Kate DiCamillo finds a third pathway through. She takes it upon herself to write a story as complex and meaningful as any adult book, yet as simple as quite a few children's books. She challenges herself to craft fully-realized characters and themes in as few words and details as possible. She marries childlike wonder with adultlike wisdom. But Kate DiCamillo does something else too. She makes it clear that the marriage of that wonder with that wisdom isn't a creative choice, something she invented for her story. She shows us how that connection is all around us, a part of the very fabric of our world—and thus we can never truly understand the world we live in unless we see it from the joyous, pure, untarnished perspective of a child. Kate DiCamillo proves, time and time again, that time spent thinking like a child would is time well spent, and The Beatryce Prophecy is just another example of how children, and children's literature, can allow us to open our eyes and see the beautiful things in this world that we never noticed.