Friends, I know it has been a while since we last talked. I’ve been busy; you’ve been busy. I’ve had a few songs that I’ve been itching to write, but had no time to do so.
Since I introduced you to Mickey and her doctor a couple of years ago, I’ve moved to St. Louis, started a new job and, well, parented a lot. A few weeks ago, I finally had a chance to escape to Colorado with my family and hide out in a remote cabin for a few days (thanks Uncle Lee!). During the long drive to Leadville, we listened to Kate DiCamillo’s, “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” a story about a china rabbit who is lost by a little girl and eventually finds his way home (a full summary of the story is below). I actually intended to write a song about Eve Bunting’s “Yard Sale” or Kevin Henkes’ “A Good Day,” but I wrote the melody to the song first and Kate DiCamillo’s character, Abilene, fit so perfectly into the meter that I had to change my plans.
While I’ve always enjoyed Kate DiCamillo’s books, this one was particularly impressive. I mean, who writes a genuinely moving book with an inanimate china rabbit as the main character? Moreover, as I peeled back the layers of the narrative, I discovered astounding depth. There are themes of vulnerability, loss and love that recur amidst a tragic cast of unusual characters. There is a disturbing story within a story that foreshadows Edward’s journey, a mysterious character named Pellegrina (“pilgrim” in Italian?) that keeps showing up, and Edward the china rabbit as a sort of savior who dies and comes back to life. I had fun digging through the story with my daughter who had read the book with her class.
Disclaimer: I write songs about children’s books because I think they often capture important human (and stuffed animal) values with a refreshing simplicity that will be compelling to children and adults alike. As a pediatrician and parent, it’s really important to me to be able to communicate effectively to both of these groups. That being said, a main critique of this book is that some of its concepts will be emotionally challenging for children – and this is a fair judgment. The characters live difficult lives and experience sadness that a young child cannot fully fathom. Thus the book is not for every child, and likewise I suppose my song will not be either.
Below is the story in Kate DiCamillo’s words, summarized in her beautifully crafted coda.
Once, there was a china rabbit who was loved by a little girl. The rabbit went on an ocean journey and fell overboard and was rescued by a fisherman. He was buried under garbage and unburied by a dog. He traveled for a long time with the hoboes and worked for a short time as a scarecrow.
Once, there was a rabbit who loved a little girl and watched her die.
The rabbit danced on the streets of Memphis. His head was broken open in a diner and was put together again by a doll mender.
And the rabbit swore that he would not make the mistake of loving again.
Once there was a rabbit who danced in a garden in springtime with the daughter of the woman who had loved him at the beginning of his journey. The girl swung the rabbit as she danced in circles. Sometimes, they went so fast, the two of them, that it seemed as if they were flying. Sometimes, it seemed as if they both had wings.
Once, oh marvelous once, there was a rabbit who found his way home.
And for those who are interested, here are the lyrics to my song. I hope you enjoy it!
Abilene (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane)
You’d cared so deeply, but love meant little to me
I was a proud rabbit, fine china without flaw
Cruel years have changed me, I’m broken, alone and lost
Saved by a fisher’s wife then a homeless man
I learned what it means to lose and be found again
I need you right next to me
I am empty and waiting for love
Sara Ruth clutched me, a child struggling to breathe
The night when she left, I was overwhelmed with grief
When my body was shattered, Sara Ruth reached from heaven
Yet I fell condemned to earth, scared to love again
Months, in the doll mender’s store, waiting to be found, now held by a young girl
Then, with a mother’s gaze, my lost watch ‘round your neck, you whisper my name