Editor's note: If you do not know the story of Edward Tulane, the following interview contains spoilers.
Dallas — In preparation for their upcoming production of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, the Dallas Children's Theater staff embarked on something new with an outcome that nobody could have seen coming. To supplement the play, DCT launched the Edward Tulane Journeymaker’s Project. A group of five families was selected to read the book, complete assignments together as a family, attend an early script reading, and share their comments about the both the book and the experience with staff members. One scenario from the play follows a family who lost their daughter, and sadly, one of the Journeymaker families experienced the same thing, losing their 5-year-old daughter to CDKL5, a rare genetic disorder. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane was the last book they enjoyed with their daughter and the last book their 8-year-old daughter read to her younger sister.
Kate DiCamillo wrote the book in 2006. She also wrote Newbery Medal-winner, The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie, a Newbery Honor recipient and subsequently a movie; The Tiger Rising, a National Book Award Finalist; and most recently, the Mercy Watson stories. Her New York Times bestseller and basis for the upcoming play at DCT, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, is about a china rabbit given to a young girl that undergoes a profound transformation after finding himself lost and face down on the ocean floor. The story was adapted for the stage by Dwayne Hartford. DiCamillo took time from her home in Minneapolis to talk to TheaterJones about Edward and the power of storytelling.
What inspired you to write Edward Tulane?
I always say that being asked that question is really hard, but for this book, it's easy. Someone gave me a rabbit doll as a gift, and when she handed me the rabbit, I said, "What's his name?," and she said, "Edward." So I took him home, and he's kind of a creepy looking rabbit. I sat him on my couch in the living room, and every time I caught a glimpse of him, he startled me. The third night I had him, I dreamed about him being under water in the ocean without his clothes. There is no delicate way of saying it, he was a naked rabbit. I first thought of his story as a picture book, but then, one thing led to another, and I just followed along.
How did you make the decision to have a child pass away in the book?
When I'm writing, I'm always hoping for that feeling where I'm not really making the decisions, and that's what happened. It was a huge surprise to me, but if I had tried to change it, it would have been a mistake.
Have you heard from other families in addition to the Dallas family who have lost a child and found comfort in your book?
I have heard from an astonishing amount of people who have read the book to their elderly parents when they were coming to the end of their lives. I hardly ever leave a book-signing without crying. It's unbelievable and heartbreaking and goes to that thing of how much comfort can come from reading. Those stories always take me by surprise. I think I should be used to it by now, but then I think, I don't want to be. It's such an honor.
How did Edward Tulane get adapted into a stage production?
Somebody in the theater world wrote a lovely script, and then that got picked up and put on by other theaters. I was not involved in the stage adaptation at all. That convinces me that I'm where I'm supposed to be—writing books. I was pretty involved with the making of the movie Because of Winn Dixie. I worked on the screenplay and was on the set, and that was really fun. I really, really liked that movie.
You are a Newbery Medalist. What does that honor mean to you?
Talk about something that's hard to believe! Wherever I go, in my head, I can transport myself back to the public library I visited as a child and see the shelf of books that had that medal on the cover. I always looked for that medal and knew that that would be a good book.
You just finished two years as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. What sort of things did you do as ambassador?
I went all over the country and did community readings and talked about reading together regardless of age. Sometimes I talk to adults, and I tell people to go home and read to other adults. We forget how much that can mean to us.
Do you feel that children today make reading less of a priority?
It's certainly a constant concern for adults. After two years of going out there and seeing a wide spectrum of kids face to face all over the place—schools, community centers, bookstores, libraries. They read, and they are passionate about books. It was a wonderful surprise to me how much it still is a part of childhood. It matters to them, and if I talk about some of the books I read as a kid, if I mention Charlotte's Web or Stuart Little or Paddington, there are always whispers and nods. They know those books and love them. So, I think the future of reading is in good hands.
» The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane runs March 18 through April 10 (no performances Easter weekend, March 26-27) at Dallas Children's Theater and is recommended for children 7 and older. On opening night, special guests Gene and Peggy Helmick-Richardson, known as the Twice Upon a Time Storytellers, will help young patrons imagine what storytelling was like during the depression era. The pair have more than 30 years of experience as members of the Dallas Storytelling Guild and have been part of the Texas Commission on the Arts Touring Artists Roster since 2003. Also on opening night, Nothing Bundt Cakes White Rock will serve bundtinis to guests during intermission, and there will be face painting and giveaways.
» The performance at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 3 will have American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation; and the 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 9 will be sensory-friendly for children on the autism spectrum.