Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who adored him completely. And then, one day, he was lost… Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. Along the way, we are shown a miracle–that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again. – Goodreads
I am back to school this semester, and I’m taking a Literacy in Schools course. I was pretty thrilled to realize that there is some required reading, and most of the novels are middle-grade! They are pretty universally novels that I wouldn’t choose to read myself, but I kind of like that I’m being forced to read outside my comfort zone (meaning there are no witches or wizards or ghosts in any of these novels). This is the first of the semester. Edward the china rabbit thinks very highly of himself and not at all highly of most humans. He likes two people, Abilene and her grandmother, Pellegrina. The world revolves around Edward in his own mind, even though all he is is china, wire, and a bit of rabbit fur. If he was a human protagonist, he would be highly and immediately unlikable, but because this is a children’s book, and Edward is just a naive little toy, he gets a tiny bit of sway. I imagined this book would be about Edward’s growth and redemption, which makes his beginnings easier to swallow.
Our professor warned us that most of the stories she’d assigned would make us cry. Pampers commercials make me cry these days, so I didn’t think much of her statement at the time. Edward’s story, however, is a hard one, as most of these redemption stories are. What makes it bearable to me is that there is not enough background on any of the characters to make you really like them before bad things start happening to them. The story is eminently readable, quick and precise, and the chapters are very short. It does not feel like a 200 page novel at all. I read nine chapters in maybe 25 minutes.
We first meet Nellie, an older woman living with her fisherman husband in a tiny house near the sea. She dresses him in girls’ clothes and calls him Susanna. He has learned to listen and to appreciate what the humans around him give to him, and he has almost learned to love someone. It only took nearly a year at the bottom of an ocean for him to figure it out. I was almost afraid to keep reading, because I knew bad things would eventually happen, and Edward would experience true heartbreak for the first time. He eventually ends up in the trash, awaiting another rescue, except now he is changed and has known love, and his isolation is much more painful than before.
This is all just the beginning of Edward’s journey, and a lot happens. This book made me cry a bit, as my professor promised, because of Edward but also because of the people Edward meets. He touches all their hearts in some way, and they all have deeper issues of their own. Some are lost, some are sick, some have children who don’t appreciate them. All appreciate Edward though, and he learns to appreciate them. He becomes almost real, which reminds me of the Velveteen Rabbit and his discussion with the Skin Horse:
“What is REAL?” the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. But once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”