Friday, May 21, 2010

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane: Insights from young readers

"How come they haven't made Edward Tulane into a movie." These and other questions and insights bubbled up from 2-4th graders. It was the last Lunch Bunch of the year. Lunch Bunch is an Oprah-style book club that we hold each month during the school year on a book chosen by students.
I had no expectation that students would be able to carry on a conversation at all since we are at the end of the year. Kids and teachers alike are exhausted, excited, and exuberant and that makes it difficult to focus a discussion. But they forgot all about the end of school, and getting out for recess after they finished. They forgot all about time entirely as we discussed The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane! Thinking that we'd have a very short discussion I began with very general short questions.

"What are some other books that Kate DiCamillo has written?" (Several students had read most of her works.) Discussion about how much we cherished Winn Dixie and the Tale of Despereaux... how one of those was very funny and the other was her characters are often on the outside edge of the group to which they belong.....and these ideas, though I have expressed them differently than the children, were all initiated by the kids...I just asked the questions! "Who was the main character in this book?" I asked. Hands went up everywhere - so many details about Edward's life. What an unfeeling snobbish character he was at the beginning of that book. One of the deep thinkers, a sweet raven-haired girl of Indian parents said, "In the beginning all he thought about was himself! He didn't know how to love anyone." Sometimes they take my breath away with their insights and I have such hope for the future!

Can you think of other stories you have read in which the main character was a rabbit? Bunnicula, called out a tow-headed 3rd grader(he had read all the Bunnicula books -- he reads everything in a series if he likes it-- and he loved that one). Bugs Bunny, shouted another 2nd grade boy who tends toward Captain Underpants. The Velveteen Rabbit, said a tender 3rd grade girl. Peter Rabbit, the Tortoise and the Hare, and Brer Rabbit followed in rapid succession. "How were they alike?" Some were humorous, some not.....but they had something in common....I paused and still there was......nothing.....I am thinking of a word that 4th graders should remember that would have been a literature starts with a 'P'......nothing...'Per'...." Light bulbs went on "PERSONIFICATION" shouted two students in unison with joy in being the first to remember something! Both of them love competition.

Then they started questioning me. One student wanted to know, "Why are movies always different from the book?" Others ventured very good guesses about why that would be. It would be too long they decided. The question of why Edward Tulane hasn't been made into a movie was discussed in-depth with such good insights....about whether Edward would have to be a animated character or whether he might be played by a person. Was there enough excitement in it to make it a good movie candidate? It certainly wasn't funny which was another indicator for making a good movie they decided. Did they think it was a sad story? Such good answers came....

After watching the author on the Internet discuss how she came to write...about how she felt like a failure...about how she had over her lifetime received over 500 rejections before she became a successful author.....about how she felt like a failure and an outsider. What a gift for kids to hear. Someone who is successful often feels like an outsider and a failure! So many of my thinkers and readers feel like outsiders. They need to know it is a heroic trait!

We talked about how some of them might grow up to be writers, and about how Ms. DiCamillo became an observer in all the menial jobs she took, about keeping a writers notebook and writing about the things they see everyday so that they don't forget....... My heart was filled in a very messy library at the end of school amid the chaos of all that means!