This is my first review that celebrates award-winning books to be read and relished, hopefully more than once, sometimes for a lifetime. The ALA will announce 18 awards next Monday, including the renowned Caldecott and Newbery Medals, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards and Printz award, so it’s a good time to start the challenge I have taken at Gathering Books blog. Thanks to Myra and Iphigene and Fats from GatheringBooks for hosting the 2012 award-winning books challenge.
It is the 50th anniversary of the publication of A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which won the Newbery Award in 1963. A Publisher’s Weekly article here tells of the year’s plans of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group to commemorate this beloved book, including a 50th anniversary edition that will be released soon. And here is one of L’Engle’s acceptance speeches, when the American Library Association honored her in June, 1998 with the Margaret Edwards award for Lifetime Achievement In Writing in the Field of Young Adult Literature.
According to a Study Guide from Glencoe Publishing, l’Engle once said: I start with what I know with all five senses, what I have experienced, and then the imagination takes over and says, “But what if—” and the story is on. So, how does one review a book that has been in our consciousness for 50 years, has sold over 10 million copies, and even if someone hasn’t read it, they will always say, oh yeah, I know that book? I think I will just respond to the reading I’ve just completed. This is what I enjoyed this time.
I read from an old and tattered paperback that belonged to my daughter, issued in 1973. The back of the book quotes Library Journal: Characterization is excellent; the enormity of the setting is handled with sensitivity, and suspense is well-sustained…Provocative reading for discerning teenagers. And from Horn Book: Fascinating…it makes unusual demands on the imagination and consequently gives great rewards. I agree, and yet wonder how many highschoolers are reading this. It is rated as a 5.8 reading level, yet I know that some are using it in book groups for fourth graders. And what did I think as I read? There are exciting moments in this text that young students can love, and there are oblique references to the Bible that I had a tough time understanding until I did further research. I could find no statement that L’Engle meant this for the very young, but the Newbery award is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children, according to the American Library Organization Newbery Home Page. It was written for children, with respect for their ability to figure important things out. That, with all the other books she wrote, is who L’Engle was, a children’s writer.
What I liked: L’Engle’s ability to make us gleeful with anticipation in her descriptions. There was a faint gust of wind, the leaves shivered in it, the patterns of moonlight shifted, and in a circle of silver something shimmered, quivered, and the voice said, “I ddo nott think I will matterrialize completely. I ffindd itt verry ttirinngg, andd wee hhave mmuch ttoo ddoo.”
I loved the small jokes set into the tension that allowed us to breath once in a while. In one frightening scene as Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin are being fed by dark smocked men right after they have met the man with red eyes, seemingly the speaker for IT. I read: There’s something phoney (sic) in the whole setup, Meg thought. There is definitely something rotten in the state of Camazotz.
I noticed: The beginning of the argument for being alike. As Charles Wallace is being drawn into the power of IT, he argues with Meg. On Camazotz we are all happy because we are all alike. Differences create problems. You know that, don’t you, dear sister? This push and pull of sameness being important is the argument that rings true for numerous political ideologies such as communism, socialism and fascism. There are many books written that decry taking away one’s personal rights, among them The Giver by Lois Lowry and 1984 by George Orwell, of “Big Brother is watching you” fame. Students who do not know science fiction should enjoy seeing that people in books have big challenges as we do in our real world of past and present day conflicts. There is a wonderful passage with Mrs. Whatsit using the structure of a sonnet as an analogy. She talks of the fourteen lines in iambic pentameter, a very strict rhythm and meter. She continues: And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it? Further, But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn’t he? Later in the conversation, she ends with: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you. Our lives are compared to a sonnet. L’Engle says: A strict form, but freedom within it.
The unusual and loving characters were caring as well as effective: Mrs. Whatsit is the youngest of those strange beings that come to help the Murrys find their father. She says, Wild nights are my glory, yet she remains stable and helpful. Mrs. Who, the practical one who speaks in illuminating quotes in foreign languages, like Le Coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point. French, Pascal. The heart has its reasons, whereof reason knows nothing. The next, and it appears the one with most power, Mrs. Which, who speaks rarely, but somberly and with drawn out consonants of the beginnings and endings of words. Mrs. Which, along with Aunt Beast who appears at a crucial time in the story play large roles in the book, and however unusually portrayed, L’Engle manages to keep the loving traits of the characters intact.
Finally, it is important to me as it was to my daughter that the strongest character, the protagonist, is Meg, a girl. She is willful, opinionated, decries her differences but holds fast to them because that is who she is, and she likes herself. In her world of early adolescence, she is shown to want to be liked, but resists the compromises that her peers wish in order to be accepted. She shows heroic characteristics in her capacity to step forward to do right without compromise. A most wonderful thing is that readers can continue to watch Meg grow up in the later books in the series.
This is a brief book by some recent standards. It is less than two hundred pages. I could describe other scenes I loved, show different beautifully written words, but I hope if you haven’t read it lately that you will give some time to an old classic children’s novel.