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  • Writer's pictureNora Curry

The Beatryce Prophecy

The goat.

The goat was in his heart, too. Seemingly, the heart could hold an untold amount of thingsletters and people and goats and bees.

Seemingly, there was no limit to what it could contain.

- The Beatryce Prophecy, Kate DiCamillo

All writers write, but some are truly more storytellers than writers. Children's book author Kate DiCamillo is described as a storyteller in her book jacket bio for The Beatryce Prophecy, and the designation, in this case, could not be more apt. Her stories are read off the page by millions but are told and heard by many more, because they lend themselves so beautifully to the art of telling, among parent and child, teacher and group of eager listeners, and so on. There is something about the quality of writing and the richness of language, the heart of the characters and plot that yearns to be shared—not just experienced and then let go. There is a joy you sense from her in how she crafted the story she now tells, in the exact words she carefully chose. And above all, her books are made of the stuff that can be beloved (and is) by both adults and children. Never more true than it is of her latest: The Beatryce Prophecy.

At the monastery for the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing, the monk Brother Edik stumbles upon a young girl, alone and sleeping with a hilariously stubborn and menacing (but ultimately quite fantastic and loving) goat. The girl awakes with no memory but that of her name: Beatryce. Yet there is one more defining character about her: she can read, which girls are not supposed to be able to do in this medieval kingdom. This ability is particularly dangerous, because the king has received a prophecy that such a girl will unseat him and bring about a "great change," which means all the king's horses and all the king's men are out for her. Beatryce undertakes a journey accompanied by the goat, Answelica, and a vengeful but caring orphan named Jack Dory. She meets other friends along the way as she seeks to regain her identity and find her place. Beatryce can not only read; she can also write, and, when she lacks pen and paper, she can simply weave stories with her voice, a talent she wields throughout the book as an act of love for those who help her along the way.

DiCamillo's novel is illustrated by Sophie Blackall, a pairing that alone is enough to excite the world of children's literature. Blackall's illustrations complement the story perfectly, allowing for an aged and illuminated feel to pair with the medieval plot, while also having a rounded, childlike quality that bespeaks the joy and youthfulness of a story for children. DiCamillo is hardly the first children's author to write a tale that takes place in the Middle Ages, and it can be dangerous territory, in a time where we seek to expand the diverse range of children's literature, to focus on a period to which children may feel disconnected, experiencing it as a kind of theatrics, and in which most of society was whitewashed. Yet DiCamillo manages to make the emotions of her characters so endearing and palpable, full somehow simultaneously of both complexity and simplicity, that the vehicle with which she does it is quite effective. She speaks of basic things through her characters: of hope, of faith, of courage, of connection, of purpose, of sorrow, of loneliness, of love. What child can't find something in there on which to ruminate? And for that matter, what adult?

I've heard countless stories about children being utterly transfixed and transported by DiCamillo's yarns, but she seems to hold a special place as a writer who so clearly writes to delight children yet completely crosses generations in her reach. As I finished The Beatryce Prophecy and ruminated on this aspect of DiCamillo's work, I serendipitously stumbled across words that echoed this sentiment. In her new book of essays, These Precious Days, writer Ann Patchett attests to the appeal for all ages, as she includes an entire piece about the delights of reading Kate DiCamillo as an adult. She writes, "It made no difference what age it was written for. I felt like I had found a magic portal, and all I'd had to do to pass through was believe that I wasn't too big to fit." Patchett goes on to say, "That's what I got from these books, the ability to walk through the door where everything I thought had been lost was in fact waiting for me. All of it. The trick was being brave enough to look. The books had given me that bravery, which is another way of saying the ability to believe." Can we all be that able and brave?

So here is one of your librarian's wishes for you in the coming year: to find the ability to believe, perhaps between the covers of books.

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