The Beatryce Prophecy

Authored by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Published by Walker Books

The Beatryce Prophecy

Before I get to the business of actually reviewing this latest book from Kate DiCamillo, please forgive a little reviewer’s angst.  I’m on record as being a keen admirer – an understatement – of DiCamillo’s earlier novels. I’m also well aware of Just Imagine’s commitment to properly critical thought around children’s literature. In approaching this review, I did wonder about the degree of bias I now have in relation to this author. If I say it is wonderful, is it because I am predisposed to thinking it is wonderful? I think I have managed to reassure myself. When I think of Kate DiCamillo as a writer, I often associate her work with my other favourite, Anne Tyler. Both write about humans extremely well. Do I love all of Anne Tyler’s books uncritically?  Almost, but not quite. So I think I am safe to say that The Beatryce Prophecy is wonderful.

Roddy Doyle once described Anne Tyler as ‘the greatest line-and-length novelist in the world.’  For me, Kate DiCamillo, is a truly great line-by-line, as well as line-and-length novelist writing novels suitable for children. The crafting in The Beatryce Prophecy is typically exact – just so – and typically affecting. In places, one sentence builds on another in ways that will stop you in your tracks.  Prepare for a slowed read, line-by-line. That said, it’s also a gripping story of stories, so prepare to be held and propelled towards a rich and satisfying ending. In and around all of this expert storytelling, Sophie Blackall’s designs and luminous illustrations give great depth and additional heart to the book, and mark this out as a very special collaboration. It is a beautiful book in every sense, both in word and image.

I am not going to spoil this book at all.  Suffice to say, there was once a goat, and a monk, and then a girl, and then more monks, a king of sorts, a boy, and finally a – well this last will certainly spoil things somewhat. The goat is a standout character.  It’s not everyday you can say that. The monk too – with his roving eye and an endless capacity to see beauty in the starkest times. In some ways, their shared adventures called to mind The Wizard of Oz or even Star Wars.  Forgive me if you can’t see the association, and I’d use that comparison with caution in case it gave a very wrong impression.

In terms of its place in the classroom, The Beatryce Prophecy is thematically rich and leaves plenty of space for discussion around the importance of friendship, the nature of power, faith, war, and more.  For me, the thematic aspect I would most look forward to exploring is the threaded love of the written word.  The book is a celebration of this singular human achievement. DiCamillo characterises herself as a reader first, above all else.  A sense of thankfulness for the written word and, more importantly, access to the written word runs throughout.  Aspects of the history of written language are crucial to the book’s plot. As DiCamillo puts it, this is a book that considers ‘the power of words to spell the world.’

This glance at the history of writing could form the basis of an extended sequence of reading and discussion that explores the history of writing and books.  John Agard’s Book: My Autobiography would make a very fine complement. Exploration might move on to our own identities as readers, censorship, and even control of literacy itself. These topics are timeless. These topics have never been more timely. As such, this classical tale has huge potential to reverberate in thought, talk, and in the written word itself.

 

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