Kate DiCamillo begins her story with a quote from Stanley Kunitz’s poem “The Testing Tree” which says, in part, “The heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking.” The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane follows Edward, a china rabbit, as he learns to love and comes truly alive as he passes in and out of the lives of others.
In the beginning of the story, Edward lives in the Tulane house with a little girl named Abilene. Abilene loves Edward dearly, setting him in the window each day as she leaves for school and telling him she will come for him when her day is done. Edward is always dressed in fine clothes and while he thinks highly of himself, he does not care much for anyone else. He doesn’t feel his life is missing anything, but one day Abilene’s grandmother, Pellegrina, tells the tragic story of a beautiful princess who doesn’t love anyone other than herself. After the story’s gruesome end, Pellegrina tells Edward, “You disappoint me.” Edward doesn’t understand why she says this, but it bothers him–though not enough to truly change him.
Edward’s life changes drastically, though, when he is accidentally thrown overboard into the ocean on a family trip. After spending time at the bottom of the sea, he eventually finds himself caught in a fish net. The fisherman finds him and takes him home, where he is renamed and eventually cherished almost as a child by the fisherman and his wife. Edward begins to listen to the old couple and care for them and enjoys his life, even if they do call him Susanna and dress him like a girl. Life changes again, though, when the couple’s daughter sneaks Edward out in the trash and he finds himself at the dump. Edward eventually spends years traveling with a hobo and his dog before a brief stint as a scarecrow and then as a treasured gift for a dying girl. With each new owner, Edward finds his heart stretching and growing and sadly, time and again, breaking as he is uprooted from the ones he loves. He finally understands Pellegrina’s disappointment in him, but feels that maybe it is too late for him.
After an unfortunate incident with an angry diner owner, Edward finds himself in the care of a doll mender who repairs him and brings him back to life. Edward spends years on the shelf in the doll mender’s shop, waiting for someone to come, and eventually, someone does come, bringing Edward full circle on his miraculous journey.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a chapter book, but the chapters are short and as a read aloud it only took us two days. The storytelling is simple and straightforward, but at the same time, it touches you deeply, as most of Kate DiCamillo’s books do. While most middle- to upper-elementary aged kids wouldn’t have trouble with being able to read the words, the story itself is pretty intense in some parts. May of the people Edward lives with are troubled and broken and there is a little girl (with a drunken and neglectful father) who eventually dies. If you have a sensitive young reader I would definitely preview this one first. In spite of some of the hard situations, though, this is an absolutely beautiful story, accompanied by gorgeous illustrations.
As you follow Edward on his journey, you find that you, too, have changed as you witness Edward’s transformation. This is a journey well worth taking.