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Monday, June 23, 2008

Book Discusion: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

"Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a rabbit who was made almost entirely of china." So begins Kate DiCamillo's fourth book for children, a book about a proud china rabbit who learns to love.

But, to my mind, that it too simple a summary for this book, rich with character and story and images and metaphors. And theology too: In a sermon this Lent about baptism, I talked about Edward's being thrown overboard into the sea as a kind of baptism, a death and resurrection and a beginning of a journey.

Without further ado, here are some possible ideas for conversation/discussion:

1. Did you enjoy this book? Why or why not? What did you like/dislike about it?

2. Talk about Edward's journey, the people he meets and what he learns from them. What about Abilene, Nellie and Lawrence, Lucy and Bull, Bryce and Sarah Ruth.

3. What about Pellegrina, her repeated phrase, "you disappoint me," and her scary fairy tale?

4. Edward stares up at the stars frequently throughout the book. He sees different things there. throughout the book. What do you think is the significance of the stars?

5. I saw baptismal imagery in this book. Did others see other theological/biblical images or ideas? Talk about those.

Here are some passages from the book that struck me:

About Nellie: "Before, when Abilene talked to him, everything had seemed so boring, so pointless. But now, the stories Nellie told struck him as the most important thing in the world, and he listened as if his life depended on it."

Bull to Edward, about his travels as a hobo, "we are going nowhere. That, my friend is the irony of our constant movement."

Bryce, to Edward: "I come to save you."

About Sarah Ruth: "It was a singular sensation to be held so gently and yet so fiercely, to be stared down at with so much love."

Lucius Clarke, the Doll Repairer, about Bryce: "He gave you up so that you could be healed. Extraordinary."

The Old Doll, to Edward, "If you have no intention of loving or being loved, the whole journey is pointless." and finally, "Open your heart. Someone will come for you."

What are some significant passages for you?

I'm looking forward to the discussion. I have a deep love for children's literature, and often find theological themes of depth in these stories.


  1. I'm here now, if anyone is up to start the discussion.

  2. Hi, Diane!
    I read this book last summer, both to myself and with my campers at church camp. I made sure to read ahead, because I didn't want to be blubbering while reading aloud. My daughter read the book before I did, and I remembered the weeping. In fact, she came downstairs at the end of almost every chapter, crying, then went back to her room to read more.
    To say we were touched by Edward's journey is to put it mildly.
    To answer some of your questions:
    1) I loved the book. Naturally one is put in mind of The Velveteen Rabbit, but I think also of The Odyssey and other great works of literature about a physical and spiritual journey. The hardcover book itself was a pleasure to hold: beautiful illustrations and paper quality.
    2) Edward's separation from people who loved him felt wrenching on all levels. He's helpless, of course, and DiCamillo seemed willing to be pretty ruthless! From the time he lost Lucy and Bull, I was prepared for anything to happen.
    3) Pellegrina is a reminder that even people who seem mean may have a message for us, and that all our lessons in life are not gentle.
    4) and 5) You make me want to go back and read again. I did not think about baptism, but I will look and see.
    You picked out some of the quotes I remember a year later, so well done.
    I guess the question I would ask is how young to go with this book? My daughter was in 6th grade when she read it alone, and she found it VERY emotional. I wouldn't be likely to hand it out to a much younger child, knowing that, although it looks like a younger child's book from the outside.

  3. thanks for the comments, songbird! I don't think I'd go any further down than 5th or 6th grade either. I thought it was awfully sad. While surfing around, I actually found a homeschooling review that didn't like the book at all, and wondered why Kate DiCamillo wrote it. Too violent and sad.

    I thought: Well, fairy tales are pretty violent.

    And then there's the Bible.

  4. oh, and by the way, we read it in our church book club.

  5. Hi Songbird and Diane.
    I promise to come back and repond to all of your great questions, Diane. But to answer Songbird's right off the bat, I read this book last summer with my son when he was in 6th grade. I wouldn't go much below 5th, for the reasons you stated. It's good to have a person to process with when a book is particularly strong-- and there is sadness and longing in this beautiful tale.

  6. Jiff, I agree with you. Songbird, I agree as well about the Velveteen Rabbit, the Odyssey, etc. and that the book is physically delightful. I love old illustrated books and in some ways this seems like those.

    Have you ever read George MacDonald's book At the Back of the North Wind?

  7. Just some random, unfocused thoughts. I don't think I liked the book. It seemed to obvious to me. And much too harsh for a children's book. I didn't see when I read it baptismal imagery, but I saw crucifixion imagery. It may have been in the illustration of Edward hanging as a scarecrow in the edition I had and not in the text itself. I had a really difficult time with Edward hanging on a set of cross poles.

    Is the message of the book, we have to suffer so we can learn to love? If we don't love, we suffer?

  8. Or is it perhaps that we are willing to suffer for those we love? I'm thinking of Bryce, not Edward.
    But I hear you, Joan Calvin.

  9. Well, the book is pretty sad. I did see the picture of Edward that looked like a crucifixion. Didn't like that one much.

    I think, to be fair the book could be read as "you have to suffer to learn to love." ....which would be bad.

    When Edward is thrown overboard, the next chaper begins, "How does a china rabbit die? Can a china rabbit drown?" one of the images for baptism is a death and resurrection (If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in an resurrection like his.)

    But don't mind me, I see baptism everywhere.

  10. The first time I read the book, when Songbird and the Princess read it last year, I didn't like it so much (similar to Joan Calvin's thoughts). I'm glad for the chance to re-read now and like it much better. It did remind me of a number of other books...have you read _Hitty, Her first Hundred Years_? But this is a differently layered story, of redemption and growth and finding. More like _The Velveteen Rabbit._

    Beautiful...every time I reached one of the color pictures I stroked and stroked it. I loved those pictures.

    Sad, mercy yes. I was on meds for back pain and read in bed with my DH. I kept crying and wiping my eyes, and my spouse kept saying, "What's wrong?" and I'd say, "It's just such a SAD book," and his suggestion was, "Well, stop reading it." (He's not a reader.)

    Pellegrina: She is telling him things that he is too "young" to understand. She resembles in that way a grandmother I had. He never forgets what she said.

    The stars change and yet are always there for him. They never leave him. No matter what else changes for Edward...the stars are there.

    The changing people in his life (sometimes violently changing) were in some ways the most painful for me to read. Don't you get to a point and say, "here I am, here are my family, people, here is my church, etc."....and then it changes? They DIE? there is a fuss, they go away? Nothing is certain but the love of Christ. For Edward, certainty comes from opening his heart and waiting for love.

    Maybe preachers by trade are a little better trained to deal with this? ha ha, maybe not. I am beginning to make peace with this theme of continuous change in my life. Maybe that's why I gravitate toward hanging around with you folks. :)

  11. Ok, I think I will answer questions one by one as I get overwhelmed with too many questions right now ( wedding for daughter this Saturday -just sayin')

    I very very much enjoyed this book. It's a beautiful story of love. I wonder how young children (meaning elementary age) understand it and the depth to which they see the many dimensions of the book.

    I am thinking of recommending this for our church book club.

  12. welcome, Mary Beth and Cathy. thank you for your comments, and welcome back later, Cathy. You sound busy!

    I appreciate all the things people are finding here: even the not-so-enjoyable things.

  13. My day job, is as a children's librarian...and I do not love this book. I've tried. But I am glad that this group chose a children's book and that many of you enjoyed it.

  14. hip2b, do you like others of her books? The first I read was Because of Winn-Dixie, which I really enjoyed.

  15. thank you, everyone for responding.


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