How do you know when you’ve enjoyed a book? That seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? But books are mixed bags, not all good or all bad. Often, when I finish a book I like to stop and ponder whether and how much I liked it. A good metric is to ask yourself “Would I recommend this book to a friend?”. But here’s an even simpler way to measure how well you liked a book: How fast did you read it? The best books beg to be read – they seem to jump into your hands and refuse to be put down until their story is told.
Shortly after I started reading “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane”, by Kate DiCamillo, aloud to my daughter, I realized this was no ordinary children’s book. It’s a surprisingly dark and tragic tale, punctuated by occasional moments of transcendent joy. In Edward’s world, as in the real world, good deeds often go unrewarded and sometimes bad things happen to good rabbits. But above all, this is a simple and compelling story told with such exquisitely beautiful prose that it nearly reduced me to tears several times. When we finished the book, my daughter remarked “this is my new favorite book” and, amazingly enough, I felt the same way. Writers who can thoroughly satisfy children and adults at the same time are few and far between (Roald Dahl comes to mind).
Judging by the reviews on amazon.com, this is one of those books that people either love or hate. Although overwhelmingly praised, the few negative reviews complained that this book is too disturbing for children. But my sense is that children are more sophisticated than we give them credit for. They sense and respond to honesty, which is why I think this book ultimately works for them.
When I reflected on how much I liked this book, I didn’t need to analyze much – my daughter and I raced through it, never wanting to stop reading, which, by my metric above, tells me everything I need to know. As for my daughter, her review is nicely summarized by the following direct quote: “Dad, can we read just one more chapter before bed? PLEASE???”. That’s music to any parent’s ears.