Monday, October 26, 2009

The "And More" Part

Okay, I love fabric and I love thread and scissors and needles and sewing machines (sometimes, except when their circuit boards sizzle and fry and I can't sew on them, like now, but I digress).  That's why I decided to blog, to share my quilts and other fibery things.  But I have another love (besides Tony, Marshall, Connor, Olive, and Maggie), and that love is children's books.

So. . .as I was closing the covers of my latest beloved friend, I thought, "Well, I said 'Quilts and More.' Couldn't writing about the kid's books I love be part of that more?"

So, here I am telling you that though I had my doubts about Kate DiCamillo's latest book, The Magician's Elephant (after all, who wants to read another boring story about a magician anyway), I finished the book completely enchanted.  Whenever I finish Kate's books (I know I'm supposed to say DiCamillo's books, but I know her and I love her, I truly do, though we've never met), I find my eyes again opened again to the wonder and beauty in the world.  I open them to the mysteries of stars and snow and love.  And I remember again all the things, good and bad, that can happen to one little boy (or little girl) in this world. 

The title, The Magician's Elephant, conjured for me (of course it was intended, silly) a story focused either on an animal, like many of her books have been, or on a magician.  The cover didn't invite me anymore than the title did.  But I love Kate, as I think I may have mentioned, so I had to give it a try.  I'm so glad I did.

She breaks rule after rule in this book, as she does in most of her books, but the story is wonderful and transformative, even so.  There are too many characters, not all of them children.  The point of view shifts with little warning.  Many of the POV characters are adults.  The character, Peter, has nothing really overly dramatic happen in the parts of his life we see in the present.  Indeed, the worst event in the story happens to an old aristocrat.

Peter is a  little boy in a terrible situation with no hope and the vague sense that he's missing something important.  But in the opening scene of the book, he spends the single florit meant for food on a visit to the fortune teller who gives him an unbelievable fortune that sets into motion a chain of events (would they have happened if he hadn't had the courage or stupidity to waste that florrit?) that leave a woman crippled, a man in prison, and Peter seemingly no closer to the goal of his quest.  That goal is a sister who may or may not be alive.  Don't doubt, dear reader, that the story comes to a satisfying end.  But Kate's stories aren't about the destination, they are about the journey and all the kindness, pettiness, and humanity that her characters meet along the way. 

Kate's sentneces are spare and lovely, and the book is rather short, word wise, for a mid-grade novel.  But the story is, indeed, magical.   As I finished the book, I felt that same feeling that I had at the end of Edmund Tulane, that Kate is telling us stories from a different age.  The stories really shouldn't work.  They shouldn't be so compelling or believable.  But in Kate's magic fingers, the stories come to life.  And I feel wiser and calmer and better for having read them.

Like some of Kate's other books, there are more illustrations than you'll usually find in a book of this level, and I found the round faces a bit disturbing, so I can't say I was particularly enthralled with the illustrations, but they enhance the text by giving a sense of space and timelessness to the book.

The movie rights have already been sold to 20th Century Fox and a script is already in the works.  I have enjoyed the movies based on Kate's books (Because of Winn Dixie and Tale of Despereaux, but watching even the best made movie can't capture the magic of reading one of Kate's beautifully written books. 

Find an excerpt here:

Find more about Kate here:


Morrhys said...

Hello, I'm glad I found your blog. Lovely pictures, great writing; thanks for making the internet more beautiful! - Kathleen Morrish

LaughingLG said...

Thanks Kathleen. We miss you guys.

JafaBrit's Art said...

I never did tell you that I just adore your spoon piece in the quilt exhibit, beautiful work.