It was just a little book introduced to me by a former student many years ago. I don’t even recall if she was reading it and I happened to notice it or if she suggested it to me, knowing my passion for Cynthia Rylant. Nevertheless, this child brought this magical novel to my attention and I have read it every year hence.
The title was enough to draw me in: The Van Gogh Café. How could I not pick it up? A favorite artist and a favorite locale. Although the artist does not play a role in the story line, the café, like his paintings, is truly magical, “wonderful, like a dream, like a mystery…”
Magic lives in the walls of the Van Gogh Café and it sometimes wakes up to inspire, encourage, and teach. The slim, 53 pages are filled with captivating charm, wonderful quotes, life lessons, and most of all… magic. People change when they enter the café: “He watches their faces change….the tiredness lift, the worry relax, the hurry slow down. They come in and they are kind and modest and funny.” The café’s magic brings out the good in everyone.
I share this novel as a read aloud with my students each year – we do a shared reading lesson on an excerpt from it as well. They are always intrigued, they are always focused, they are always insightful. I can count on it. I often long for a real Van Gogh Café to work its magic on me. It’s a wonderful read – I encourage you to spend 30 minutes with it if it is new to you.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
•Clara thinks morning is the kindest time of day.
•Well, a wish can be a blessing and a wish can be a curse, and Clara has read enough fairy tales to respect this.
•Magic doesn’t have to be eaten in order to work. It needs only to be believed.
•But young girls need secrets now and then. Secrets are like pieces of silver.
•And as he sits, the magic in those walls begins its work on him. There in the Van Gogh Cafe he is reminded of what he is and of what he finds beautiful. His heart swells with the revelation that he is a real writer…. And the writer knows that he has a book inside him.
~Cynthia Rylant, The Van Gogh Cafe