The Looming Specter of DEATH

So.  I was reading one of the many books commenters and e-mailers have suggested to me. In fact, I'd like to take a moment to thank you all for your many generous recommendations; it's been fun requesting millions of books at the library, and finding new and unexpected treasures.

One I picked up was The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and boy is that one great, strange book. It's very  sharp, and almost harsh in the way few children's books are now, but many were before. There's a strong whiff of Roald Dahl and The Brothers Grimm in its strict and unforgiving portrayals—of people, dolls, rabbits. And it makes a real attempt to approach the great questions of life: why are we here? What do we owe each other?
But there's also this little issue of death. And its not death of the he-was-so-old-and-it-was-his-time-to-go- and-isn't-it-wonderful-how-the-circle-of-life-works variety. It's death of an innocent. And, what is key in the context in which it's presented, death of a child. A child who suffers from an illness. A child who could be the reader.
I'm always telling Chestnut (who tends to fly into a panic as we're reading and any plot tension at all comes up), "Don't worry. Nothing bad is going to happen. This is a book for little kids and nothing really bad happens to people in books for little kids."
It's not that I think that that's a great thing—"look, don't worry, I would never tell you the truth, honey" but, you know, I'm not all that comfy with the idea of mortality either. And the idea of my child's mortality? My brain shuts down.

I read this book on my own, and so far no one else in my house has picked it up. It's a really wonderful,  endearingly strange sort of book. I would recommend it to anyone. But I don't know just what I will say if they ask about death. I mean, I don't exactly doubt my ability to come up with some last-ditch generalized comfort. But no matter what I say, the reality of death will be no further away.

9 thoughts on “The Looming Specter of DEATH

  1. I loved this book too! Kate DiCamillo is amazing – she is not afraid of the darkness and sadness, which, I think, is what makes her stories so incredibly beautiful. She’s from Minneapolis and I saw her out walking her dog about a year ago and I was so excited I wrote about it here:
    Still really enjoying your blog! Doesn’t summer just feel like the best season for reading?


  2. Yeah, I read this and then hid it so my 9yo won’t see it. It was a good book, and she’s enjoyed other Kate DiCamillo stuff, but I just don’t feel like dealing with the crying jag that this book would bring on.


  3. I just read this book YESTERDAY. I had seen it recommended in the Chinaberry catalog (which is an excellent source for unique books for children) and I knew that my kids and I enjoyed Kate DiCamillo’s other books.
    My 8 year old read it over the weekend and told me it was “too sad.” I was more emotional at the very end, and sat hugging the book for a few minutes when I finished it.
    I think it is strange, and wonderful. I’m glad I read it.


  4. I love Kate DiCamillo- haven’t read this one yet, but I never miss the chance to HIGHLY recommend her book The Tiger Rising. It is one of my absolute favorite young reader books.


  5. My daughters both had the same third grade teacher and she read this book in both classes. They both said that they really liked it but “it was kinda sad”. I’ve not read this one all the way through but did read Di Camillo’s other titles to them. Now I’ve got to go back and read this one!


  6. My daughter read this enthusiastically. I had no idea is was so sad from what she said about it. On the other hand, at a not-so-different age she read “Because of Winn-Dixie,” also by Kate DiCamillo, and sobbed uncontrollably while insisting on finishing it. Apparently parental abandonment scares her more than death.
    For the record, I was not planning to let her read Winn-Dixie yet (age 7) but my mom gave it to her when I was asleep. But Edward Tulane was completely fine for her. That may be because it is fantastical (I gather from the rabbit in clothes), while Winn-Dixie is realistic.


  7. I read this book based on your post, and I’m happy I did. I was worried that it would be achingly sad, and it wasn’t. Bittersweet, I would say. Thank you for the recommendation. As a Children’s Librarian in training, it helps to keep up with the Juvenile literature, as well as the picture books.


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