Yesterday was the first Bagels nâ€™ Books book group.Â A great, enthusiastic bunch of fourth and fifth graders, a dozen bagels that rapidly and magically disappeared into eight mouths, and a lot of talk about The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.Â Guess what?Â The kids didnâ€™t like the book much.
These kids are well-versed in how to discuss literature, and though there were a few groans when I said itâ€™s not enough to just say you donâ€™t like a book, that you have to give specific reasons, they all provided clear and definitive reasons for why they didnâ€™t like the book.Â One girl said it was too easy and it didnâ€™t take her very long to finish the book.Â A boy chimed in that he read the book in, like, an hour.Â Another girl said that there is no point to the book.Â â€œAh-ha!â€Â I thought to myself, â€œMaybe they havenâ€™t delved deep enough into the book and thatâ€™s why they didnâ€™t like it!â€Â But no, this girl went on to say, â€œI mean, I understand that itâ€™s about Edward learning to love and getting back to Abilene, but whatâ€™s the point of that?”
AÂ different boy, and the girl beside him, complained that the book didnâ€™t have enough action.Â They mentioned that Kate DiCamilloâ€™s other books have action and excitement, and that The Tiger is Rising and The Tale of Despereaux are books that they enjoyed reading.Â Other kids agreed vigorously to this comment.Â One girl was brave and spoke up to say that she LOVES the book because of the language and style of DiCamilloâ€™s writing; she also commented on the cyclical nature of the storyline and had as many bookmarks marking places in the text as I did.Â Future English major, guaranteed.
IÂ used Aidan Chamberâ€™s technique of writing likes, dislikes, puzzles, and patterns on a big sheet of paper, trying to keep my mouth shut about my own opinions in order to let the kids fully express their thoughts.Â Had we had more time together (our actual book discussion only lasted for a half hour), I could have gone on to guide the group to a deeper discussion of the book.Â But Iâ€™m still not sure that I would have been able to change the minds of those kids who strongly dislike the book; and that was never my goal.
What fascinates me most is that a lot of the negative adult commentary Iâ€™ve read about the book has focused on it being too sad for children, too emotionally wrenching.Â The kids yesterday really werenâ€™t bothered by the sadness in the book, they were annoyed by the lack of action.Â They had wanted a book that was going to take them on journey; I mentioned that well, Edward Tulane does go on a journey, and most of the kids just rolled their eyes at me.Â â€œItâ€™s not a REAL journey!”
Two things come to mind: this book is a very different type of fantasy than the fantasy that prevails in the publishing world today (I hesitate to say it: the Harry Potter type of fantasy).Â Most of the kids in the book group yesterday are probably used to action-based fantasy with magic and heroes and sparks and blood.Â Edward Tulane canâ€™t speak or act, and thus passively endures all that happens to him, except for the growth within him of a heart and the ability to love.Â His physical strength doesnâ€™t change, and he doesnâ€™t accomplish great physical feats in the process of learning to love; he simply learns to love.
The other thought that comes to mind is that any reader, young or old, has the ability to skip those parts of a text that he or she either isnâ€™t ready for or just doesnâ€™t want to deal with.Â I do this all the time: when reading the sixth Harry Potter, I knew that someone was going to die, so I purposefully read the end first to find out who so that I wouldnâ€™t be held captive by the suspense of the book.Â Perhaps the kids in yesterdayâ€™s book group donâ€™t want to read about loss and sadness, or perhaps theyâ€™re not ready for stories that deal with those issues in depth, and so the book seemed, to them, to be boring.Â It didnâ€™t address their concerns, and it didnâ€™t appeal to them.
Notably, though, it was loved by one group member, the girl who was adept at locating subtleties in the text and who possessed the most sophisticated literary vocabulary.Â Iâ€™ll go out on a limb here and say that she was ready for the text, and thus loved it.Â Ready for the text, and also interested in what the text had to say.Â â€œThe right book for the right child at the right time.â€Â No one book can appeal to everyone.
At the end of the hour, I presented the book group members with seven books to choose from for our next meeting in October.Â The choices were: The Tale of Despereaux, The Diamond in the Window, Love That Dog, Half Magic, Room One: A Mystery or Two, The Penderwicks, and The Search for Delicious.Â The winner was:Â Half Magic by Edward Eager, coming to theÂ library on October 24th.