Monday, January 15, 2007

Dear Kate...

First, sorry for the long absence. I have no explanation. Now down to business.

Mostly I read children's and young adult literature. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I like to be able to suggest good books to the kids. No one should waste their time reading crap! Second, children's lit is what is laying around in the rooms I work in (and try to stay awake in), so I pick it up there and finish it later in another classroom or at home. Long time patrons to the cafe know that not long ago I finished the Herculean task of reading all the Newbery award winning books. That was an experience! Through all this I have acquired some favorite authors, ones I can't stand and some very strong opinions. Today, I'd like to write about the acclaimed, award-winning children's author, Kate DiCamillo.

If I was going to write her a letter, it would start something like this:

Dear Kate,
What the hell?!?!?!?

Okay, maybe I wouldn't be that blunt, but it truly is how I feel and a question I would really like answered.

You might not be familiar with her name, but I'm sure all of you know of her most famous story "Because of Winn Dixie". Now this is a great book. Truly great. It is full of rich characters and beautiful little side stories. It has loss, fear, abandonment, and sadness all overcome with love and everything ends up right as rain. Go ahead and read it and then watch the charming little movie if only to see Dave Matthews sing and play guitar in it. Hmmmm. Oh, and that dog is pretty damn cute, too.

Her next book "A Tiger Rising" is the bleak opposite of "Winn Dixie". This is one drab, dismal story with deeply sad people in miserable circumstances. It's gritty and ugly and just super depressing. It's got one of THE saddest endings I've ever read in ANY book. I actually cried. When I see this book in class libraries, I want to hide it in the back so nobody reads it by accident. But, the reason it works as such a downer is that Kate is an amazing writer and these characters are tragically real.

Then she wrote "The Tale of Despereux" another about-face. This might be (Might be!) my favorite book in the whole wide world. If you've never read this, stop reading my dumb blog and go start it now. It is an amazing fairy tale that has a little bit of everything: bad guys, good guys, a beautiful princess, scary places, sad moments, funny people, a rat with a hard to pronounce name and a satisfying ending. Kate got the Newbery for this and she deserved it. It's a fantastic book.

But unfortunately bi-polar Kate didn't stop there. She went on to write "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane", which is what prompts me to write the above letter. We bought a beautiful copy of this book at the last book sale and the clerk told us that it was "Better the Despereaux", which I thought was a lofty thing to claim. E checked out a copy of it on tape from the library to listen to on his way to Vermont. His report was very vague-- "Ummm...Don't read it to the kids until you read it yourself. I'm not going to say anything else. " It's not a long book and I read it all in one night. Here's MY report....

This is an awful book. Miserable. It is as big a downer as "Tiger", but in a different and much worse way. I can't even imagine why she wrote it moreover I can't imagine that her publisher said "Yeah, that's the ticket!" Confused by the existence of this book, I sought out other reviews of it. They are glowing! People love this bag-over-your-head, punch-in-the-face goop! I do not understand. It's like everyone is taking crazy pills! But here, you can make your own decision based on my very biased review. (Spoiler Alert! I never want you to read this, so I'm spoiling it for you!)

Edward Tulane is a three foot tall jointed china rabbit, which right there should be a clue that this book is going to be problematic. I mean, what kind of toy is that for a child to have? Anyway, through a series of tragedies, each one worse than the last, Edward goes through a variety of owners until at last you have the "miraculous" ending which is not a surprise in the least, that is, if you read the title. This book is chock full of terrible things for kids to think about as they drift off to sleep: jealousy, greed, drunken beatings, slow death, homelessness, cruelty, drowning, selfishness, being buried in garbage, nailed to a board, smashed in the head... I could go on, but I'm considering what rat poison tastes like. Think I'm being too harsh? One reviewer compared it to "The Velveteen Rabbit"; they meant it in a good way, but I think I make my case.

There was a book that came out in 1930 called "Hitty: Her First Hundred Years". If you want to read a story about a doll traveling through owners over a long period of time, read that. It's a little slow at times, but a very good read all the way around. Actually, I could suggest shelves and shelves of books you should read instead of "Edward". Unless you are stricken with some terrible disease that makes you unstoppably happy and want to mellow out because your face is tired from smiling all the time, read something else!


Weaver said...

Thanks for the info!

How bizarre! We loved Winn Dixie (bedtime read-a-loud here) and the movie was great all because of Dave! Of course, I also read the whole thing with Opal's (from the movie) accent. Too funny.

I saw the Despereux and Tulane books in very prominent places at the book store and thought about getting them to read to the kids. Very glad I didn't just jump in and start reading out loud.

I'll go add Despereux to the to read list and leave the others for them to read on their own in many, many years!

J. said...

You are very welcome. And anytime you need more bedtime story suggestions, I've got tons!

Nance said...

J--Naturally, this will be made into a Pixar film and Whoopie Goldberg will voice the rabbit. Lindsay Lohan will add her "considerable talents" to another major role, but after being hospitalized "due to exhaustion" be replaced by Britney Spears, who will sing a duet on the soundtrack with Beyonce Knowles.

Anonymous said...

This just in--Robin Williams has signed on to the Pixar project, agreeing in principle to play "the voice of Whoopi Goldberg."
In other news, Billy Crystal has revealed that he is, in fact, made of porcelain.