Friday, March 21, 2014

Reading: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

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This afternoon, I sat down with a child who had just completed reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane before the rest of his novel study group members.  We discussed his final thoughts about the book (he was absolutely surprised and delighted), and I asked him what important lesson he felt Edward had learned throughout his journey.

"Love," he replied quietly. 

My heart fluttered.

We continued to talk about what Edward learned about love and how the toy rabbit was able to come to this conclusion.  I was thrilled that one of my young readers not only enjoyed The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as an exciting, though heart-wrenching fantasy story, but he was also able to extract the message embedded in the pages.  Before introducing a reading group to this novel, I read reviews that suggested this book, written by Kate DiCamillo and published by Candewick in 2006, is not a book for children.  As an adult, I appreciate the story of Edward Tulane and might be able to make deeper connections with it than my own students due to my having more life experiences.  But even at nine years of age, my students still can infer the meaning of the book: Without love, the journey is pointless.  They might not understand what journey that is, but Kate DiCamillo shares her message successfully for readers of all ages to hear.  

In the very forward of the book, DiCamillo includes the line, "The heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking." From there, we are invited into the life of Edward Tulane, a well-loved but unloving China bunny - I mean, rabbit.  (Sorry about that, Edward.)  Edward was a gift from Pellegrina to Abilene, and he is adorned with the best fashions and invited to sit at the family dinner table, where he must wallow in the condescending looks from adults.  From the very beginning, we witness Abilene spoils Edward with love, from the time the maid haphazardly vacuums him and sucks up his special gold pocket watch (which gets fished out of the vacuum as fast as the maid is dismissed) to the time when she sheds her tears into his rabbit-fur ears as she and her parents depart Pellegrina and their home on Egypt Street via the Queen Mary ship.  During these instances, Edward can only think of his clothes getting wrinkled or his ears getting wet and doesn't consider Abilene's feelings.  And personally, he won't miss Pellegrina who tells scary stories about unloving princess with unhappy endings because, as she says, stories without love cannot possible end happily.  (Foreshadowing for the end of this particular book, I must add!)  It is on the Queen Mary ship that Edward's selfish ways change and that his journey begins when he is tossed overboard and spends over 200 days at the bottom of the ocean.  Eventually, he is fished out from the ocean by an old fisherman named Lawrence and brought home to his wife, Nellie.  But that is just a snippet into Edward's harrowing journey in which he always has to let go.  

It is through the letting go that Edward learns to love, and I am reminded of people in my own life who I have had to let go of.  Often, it seems that we realize how much we truly love someone until it is too late. My grandfather was recently diagnosed with cancer, and although he lives 1,200 miles away from me, I wish I had visited him more or written more letters to him or made more phone calls to him just so he knows how much I care.  But I didn't, and I didn't think of making these connections until faced with the possibility that there might be a day when I cannot.  In the same way, Edward's life is continuously saved and threatened by people, and the more he loses, the more he is able to love, miss, and remember.
Edward Tulane is loved but not loving.
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The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane includes all of the elements necessary in a quality novel for children and more.  Its ending it satisfying, and the story if brimming with action and imagination.  Its lessons of love are aplenty, and it can be intertwined with the study of character and setting and plot structure seamlessly.  While beginning this novel study, some of my students described Edward Tulane as "loving."  When I inquired further into this, they said, "Well, Abilene loves Edward, and look at the picture.  She is hugging him, so I know he is loving."  This conversation allowed us to go deeper into the text and piece together the author's clues to understand that, in the beginning, Edward is not loving.  He is loved, for sure, but he himself does not extend affection to others.  
Besides striking up thought-provoking conversations for young students, 
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a novel 
that showcases the richest of language.

I mean, just think about the title!  And the name of the toy bunny - er, rabbit.  Edward Tulane. And the names of the characters: Abilene!  Pellegrina!  Amos!  Lawrence!  Nellie!  Lolly!  Not only does this novel take place years ago, it also feels as if it was written years ago.  Its vocabulary is complex, and while it's impossible to discuss every word and to decipher each meaning with context clues, there are always valuable words in each chapter to pull and decode with students, such as jaunty, ennui, unsavory, fashioned, and commissioned all within the first chapter.  While even five words might be a lot for one chapter, most of these can be easily configured with the clues, and some words, like jaunty, are repeated twice!  I also love when stories wrap around, when the beginning somehow ties in to, or connects with, the end.  While much happens to change Edward, he learns to love, and as Pellegrina hinted, the only stories that can end happy are those that end with love. 

It's difficult to serve justice to a book like The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  I actually just welcomed a baby bunny to my home this very afternoon, and I have been considering the name Edward to pay homage to the beloved bunny, er, I mean rabbit, that I read about.  If you would like to read about Edward, too, check out this book at your local library! 

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