Good fiction written for children is simply good fiction for all of us. While I have never read Harry Potter (collective gasp noted), perhaps the intensity surrounding all of Rowling’s books supports my initial point. The case I do have in hand are the works of Kate DiCamillo. If you’ve been paying any attention to the Currently… page you know I have read two of her books in the past few months. The first, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, was recommended by a friend. Once I started I could not put it down. With captivating writing she weaves a story that is puzzling, wonderful, tragic and hopeful. Through it all, Edward discovers what love is. While the book may be primarily intended for a grade 5 or so audience, the story and the writing speak easily to readers of all ages. Mainly, it explores the barriers and prejudgment we erect so that we might have happiness contrived (contentment), rather than genuine joy and love. It lays bare the plain truth that joy and love often involve risk, heart ache and loss. However, this story also reveals that the rewards one finds in pursuit of joy and love are infinite compared to the outlay, especially when one is in the correct state of mind. Hundreds of self-help books, and adult paper backs seek to capture the same thing, and do not even come close to the beauty, warmth, honesty and creativity of DiCamillo’s writing.
I thought so much of Miraculous Journey that it wasn’t long before I took up another of DiCamillo’s books: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread. Firstly, fantastic title. Then, any book beginning with an impressive epigraph, as The Tale of Despereaux does, is worth diving into. Again, the main audience may be elementary school students, but the exploration of prejudgment, love, and commitment is right for any age. This story has a special twist in that DiCamillo carries on a running aside, or conversation, linearly to the story with the reader. These side conversations are aimed at children but her voice captured me right away. It almost feels like she wrote the story for me personally. She also throws in the theme of light and dark – exposing the struggle for some sort of balance between the two.
The best things about reading DiCamillo is the balance it brings. I try to read from different genres, fiction, and non-fiction – it can all begin to blur at times, and even become a bit arduous. But a well written children’s book is the perfect balance to help me see what great writing actually is, and to keep me loving reading. It allows me to go back to reading adult fiction, biographies, non-fiction, and professional texts refreshed. I highly recommend you find a book of hers this summer, search out a quiet spot and let your imagination run. Lacking that, there are hundreds of other great children’s books out there, I hear that Potter stuff isn’t so bad. Crack one open, and fall in love with reading again.
Any recommendations from you? Of course you have some, leave a comment below or send me an email.
Love is ridiculous.
But love is also wonderful. And powerful. – The Tale of Despereaux