If it's true that all great writers have just one story to tell, then Kate DiCamillo has found dozens of ways to gracefully tell hers. As with "Because of Winn-Dixie," "Raymie Nightingale" and many others, her new novel is the story of a child who is separated from her parents and must find her way in the world. She is helped by some benevolent adults, a friend her own age and a sort-of spirit animal.
But oh how different this is from DiCamillo's other books (which are all different from one another). For one thing, in this novel the sort-of spirit animal is a goat.
"The Beatryce Prophecy" is set in a time and a place where girls are forbidden to read and write and where monks keep a book recording dire prophecies.
"All of this happened long ago," DiCamillo writes. "Or perhaps it has yet to happen. … Who can say?" (There are several clues that despite the medieval feel, this is not the past.)
The story begins when a goat named Answelica discovers young Beatryce curled up in a haystack, filthy, weeping, burning with fever.
A monk named Brother Edik rescues the girl (despite his terror of the fiercely protective and extremely hardheaded goat) and she briefly finds shelter in the monastery.
Beatryce cannot remember how she got there; she cannot remember where her family is. Something terrible has happened, and when she comes close to remembering what it was, she wills herself to forget.
The monks have recorded a prophecy that predicts a girl will unseat the king, and now the king's men are looking for Beatryce. The monks disguise her by shaving her head and dressing her in a rough robe and sandals. But at the first opportunity, they shove her out the door — despite Brother Edik's strong objections.
From there the story becomes a journey tale, told in magical chapters, threaded through with a story-within-a-story, and populated with full, wonderful characters — the goat is paramount, of course, as is Beatryce, but there's also a cheery, whistling orphaned boy named Jack Dory, whose beloved late grandmother might be buzzing around him in the form of a bee; a strange bearded man named Cannoc, who loves to laugh; and the evil "counselor" whose robes are "as dark as the dungeon itself" and who is determined to find Beatryce.
Part fable, part morality story, "The Beatryce Prophecy" has a heavy load to carry but it is all beautifully light in DiCamillo's hands. The action moves from an inn to a deep forest to the palace of the king, and it grows quite dark, but the tension is tempered by DiCamillo's humor (mostly, but not entirely, because of the goat) and hope.
And it is tempered by Beatryce's fortitude. Trapped in a dungeon, she wonders how she will survive. "She felt as though the darkness was trying to swallow her up," DiCamillo writes. "She must not allow that to happen. She must stay herself."
For this book, DiCamillo, a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal, has teamed up with two-time Caldecott-winner Sophie Blackall, whose illustrations depict Beatryce as a lovely child with a face of strength and determination — it might be the eyebrows, or her level, unflinching gaze.
Girls are strong, the tale and pictures tell us. Laughter and friendship are crucial. And stories — along with love — are what make dark journeys bearable.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune's senior editor for books. @StribBooks email: email@example.com
The Beatryce Prophecy
By: Kate DiCamillo.
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 247 pages, $19.99.
Events: Talking Volumes, 7 p.m. Sept. 30, Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange St., tickets $28-$30, mprevents.org. Twin Cities Book Festival, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 14, in conversation with Ann Patchett and Sophie Blackall, free virtual event. https://twincitiesbookfestival.com/kate-dicamillo-and-sophie-blackall/