How dark should our children’s tales be? When ‘Ring Around the Rosy’ is understood as a metaphor for the black plague, and ‘we all fall down’ understood as death, well, I suppose that at least in some eras darkness was a part of a child’s apprehension of the world.
Last Christmas I was purchasing Kate Dicamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux from a local bookseller who encouraged me to get as well her later book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Based upon her recommendation, I bought it as well. However, like many a book, it sat unread (and therefore unloved) on our shelf for the past six months.
What a loss.
My son and I Sunday night finished reading it and I must say that I am in awe of the depth and beauty and honest realism of this book. Rare is the children’s book that I would easily read again. This is one of them.
On the one hand, this is a story about a china doll rabbit who gets lost and is found by various people. On the other hand it is a story which reveals the courage and pain that must accompany true love. Along the way one meets homeless men, an abusive father, a faltering girl, and a sad and sacrificial boy. A pretty grim landscape for a children’s book. But a landscape with a tender beauty which exposes sadness in a way that reaches the child’s heart as well as that of the parent. This landscape serves as a perfect backdrop for the redemption which is hard and long in coming.
It’s probably not cool for a dad to have tears in his eyes at the end of a book when reading it to his son, but so be it.