Friday, February 23, 2007

All the Writer Needed To Know: The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant

Magic is a powerful word and often misused. Some say magic comes from heaven, and others say it comes from hell, but anyone who has ever visited the Van Gogh Cafe knows that magic comes from a building that was once a theater; from a sign above a cash register that reads BLESS ALL DOGS; from a smiling porcelain hen on top of a pie carousel; from purple hydrangeas painted all over a ladies' bathroom; from a small brown phonograph that plays "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To." Magic is in the Van Gogh Cafe in Flowers, Kansas, and sometimes the magic wakes itself up, and people and animals and things notice it. They notice it and are affected by it and pretty soon word spreads that there is a cafe -- the Van Gogh Cafe -- that is wonderful, like a dream, like a mystery, like a painting...

Simply one of the most elegant children's books I've read. The Van Gogh Cafe has the extraordinary habit of attracting magical happenings, such as the time the possum came for a visit and healed a number of hearts, or the curious incident with the magic muffins, or that time with the Star and his lost love. A wisp of a read, Rylant never misplaces a word and has a gift for breathing life into a scene with only a sentence or two, such as:

The daughter fascinates the writer...She reminds him of a moon, or an owl

or, after lightning strikes the cafe,

Since then, things have been a little tipped, a little to one side, here at the cafe...People come in and their hats fall off.

A wonderful introduction to magical realism. Give this one to your younger sisters and cousins who aren't ready to cut their teeth on Stargirl, or a friend who needs a comforting read on a lonely summer night.

Read accompanied by Dar Williams and a plate of mini-muffins.

The Van Gogh Cafe, by Cynthia Rylant, Barnes and Noble, Powell's


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