Edward Tulane is a beautiful rabbit made in France with a delicate china face, moveable china limbs and real rabbit fur ears and tail who measure about three feet tall from his feet to the tips of his ears. He belongs to a little girl living on Egypt Street in an indeterminate town in an indeterminate time. He can’t move on his own, but every morning, Abilene, dresses him in one of his sets of fine clothes and winds his golden pocket watch, then when she comes home from school she brings him to the dinner table to eat with the family, and sets him down to sleep in his own little bed by her bedside at night. Edward has every reason to feel proud, for he truly is a beautiful rabbit, but he’s also self-centred to the point of not caring about anyone, so he’s not much interested in Abilene, nor what she has to say to him, and he rarely bothers to listen to her or to anyone else. Then one day, the unthinkable happens and Edward is lost at sea, where he spends many months stuck with his face in the sand at the bottom of the ocean. He’s eventually fished out by a kind old fisherman who brings him to his wife. The old woman calls him Susanna and makes frilly dresses for him, which Edward finds mortifying of course, but after all that time at sea, he also begins to understand what it means to listen and to love, until he loses these people too. And as Edward travels from owner to owner, as he journeys from cozy loving home to a garbage dump, to various hobo camps, through a stint as a scarecrow (the horror) to the arms of a dying little girl, to a near-death experience, he eventually learns that a heart, in order to live and truly love, must be broken again and again.
I don’t know if I’m particularly emotional today, or if it’s because there’s just a little bit (or a lot) of Edward in me, but just thinking back on this story brings tears to my eyes again. So far, it’s my favourite book by Kate DiCamillo (I’ve also read The Magician’s Elephant, The Tale of Despereaux and The Tiger Rising, all very good). I didn’t expect very much in the way of images, and was absolutely blown away by Bagram Ibatoulline’s exquisitely detailed illustrations. I may just have to get this one for myself to keep and to cherish and maybe to share with another child, small or grown someday.
(The Sunday Book Review had good things to say about it too)