Ages 4 and up (Explained below)
By Cynthia Rylant
This is one of those rare books that is truly appropriate for almost all ages. Though there are no illustrations, it can still capture the attention of your little ones. If your child can sit for 30 minutes to be read to, you could easily get through the whole book. A child who can read on his or her own will breeze through it. And I imagine read it again and again, as I have. I re-read it to write this review. Not because I needed to be reminded how wonderful it is but because I have tea steeping and time to kill and I can’t not read this book if it’s in my hands.
For the record, the only connection to Van Gogh is the name. The artist makes no appearances in this book.
The opening paragraph starts:
“The Van Gogh Café sits on Main Street in Flowers, Kansas, and the building it is in was once a theater, which may be the reason for its magic. And it’s true, the café is magical. All kinds of interesting things happen here.”
For instance, the theater is struck by lightning one day and the food starts cooking itself. And it does so perfectly. Marc, the owner, doesn’t immediately notice because he has been spending every moment of his day writing poems; poems which, it’s soon realized, are accurately predicting the future. There’s a visiting possum that inspires a sad, recently widowed man to open an animal shelter. When a bus full of children caught in a surprise snow storm are brought to the café, Marc’s daughter, Clara, feeds them muffins given to the café by a glamorous woman on her way to New York City. The woman only gave Marc and Clara two muffins, but, tucked away in the refrigerator, they’ve multiplied to fourteen! The exact number of children on the bus.
Each chapter perfectly melts into the next and each introduces a new piece of magic.
There’s two points to be aware of in this book. In one chapter an old man dies in the Café while sitting by the window. It’s a very sweet and lovely story and not upsetting or jarring but it may lead to a discussion about death with your little listener. In the following chapter, intruders try to capture a seagull living on the roof, which they believe to be an angel. The idea of intruders could be scary to younger children. However, since these 2 chapters are back to back, you could easily skip them without your listener ever knowing.
Having said that, let me now say this: I have always believed that opening a difficult discussion with your child is much easier to deal with when you’re discussing a fictional character than it is when these things occur in real life. See this post.