Monday, February 23, 2009

An Open Letter to Kate DiCamillo


You disappoint me.

It's not so much that you blatantly stole (blithely borrowed? is that your game?) the underpinning of Hitty: Her First 100 Years by Rachel Field. Come on now, did you really think we wouldn't notice? That we'd get caught up in the Velveteen Rabbit comparisons?

And it's not -- believe me -- that I'm incapable of giving my child exposure to sadness, difficulty, despair. (Go back and read my posts about watching sad movies with him. Go on.) Great literature does cover the course of human experience, human emotion, and I know all that stuff about the inevitable path of a protagonist -- the pain and suffering that leads to redemption. Check.

Spare me.

So really, after trusting you completely based on the triumph that is The Tale of Despereaux, we began reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane without worry or care. Now the irony here (at least I think it's irony -- I know it's not sarcasm) is that I wanted us to start reading Hitty as the new bedtime story. Got it out and everything. But Dean doesn't feel he can trust Rachel Field, after the very difficult part near the ending of Calico Bush (which his teacher recently read to the class). Dean says he'll NEVER read another Rachel Field book again, which is how I now feel about you. So there you go.

[If you are not Kate DiCamillo and you *think* you want to read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, you might want to stop here -- but I BEG of you NOT to read this book to a child until you've read it yourself and decide that you really want to inflict it on the young.]

Why am I so upset?

Could it be because of the horrific depiction of child abuse at the hands of an alcoholic? Because for a four-year-old girl that abuse/neglect results in her death? That her death comes after the words "she coughed up blood"? And that's after the five-year-old boy who dies by "drowning" thanks to pneumonia. Could it be because every kind, decent person meets cruelty, abuse, torment -- and that no ill befalls any of the evil-doers? The message that nice people are chewed up and spit out by the world while evil people get their way? That you actually have Edward nailed by the ears to a CROSS at one point?

Yeah. Nice bedtime story.

Kate, if this was the story you felt you needed to write, then you and your publisher needed to work together to place this very clearly as an ADULT title. Not a children's book. It pains me to think of how many others will continue to be subjected to this horrific story based on your reputation as a great children's author. No, I honestly do not feel I am over-reacting; I am a student of children's literature, knowledgable about fairytales, the real Brothers Grimm, the long rich history of sad tragic tales told to educate.

You disappoint me.

PS: Consider our partnership, real or imagined, severed permanently, irrevocably. Unless you do something in future to redeem yourself and change my mind. Just a hint -- that probably won't involve selling out the rights to a story and allowing a film to be made that takes virtually nothing to from your original work other than the title.

[I know -- just don't ever get on my bad side.]


Natalie said...

I've seen this book and it looked inviting, but vaguely suspect. Your impression will be mine and I will steer clear.

KristenMary said...

This is a very interesting post. I totally trust your perspective on this book. I listened to the audio book before I had any kids so I was "reading" (listening) to it from an adult perspective. It has been a while now, so I don't remember the details as much, but I definitely didn't like it very much.

I remember being given the storybook "The Red Shoes" by Hans Christian Anderson when I was young. I read that book once and it gave me the heebie jeebies so bad I couldn't ever read it again. It took me years to even look at the book again! I think they have to cut her feet off at the end, it was creepy for me at the time!

UK lass in US said...

As someone who got really worried about where the Velveteen Rabbit was going when reading it for the first time with her kids, I'm thinking that this is one we'll be steering clear of...