Top 100 Children’s Novels (#2)
#2 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1) (#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1) (#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1) (#1)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2) (#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2) (#2)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3) (#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3) (#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4) (#4)(#4)(#4)(#5)(#5)(#5) (#5)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#6)(#6) (#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7) (#7)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#7) (#7)(#7)(#7)(#8)(#8)(#8) (#8)(#8)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#9) (#9)(#10)(#10) – 593 points
First book that gave me nightmares–and I LOVED this fact as a 10-year-old boy. – Ed Spicer
Our heroine is an awkward girl with glasses who saves the world. – Laurie Amster-Burton (Six Boxes of Books)
This book remade the field, and it continues to shine in terms of its characterization, especially the gift of Meg Murry. I’m sure I wasn’t the only gawky, ill-spoken girl to feel that if Meg could be a hero, so could I. Meg saves the world in such a homely way, out of simple love and loyalty. This, too, seems doable to a young reader. You would think that Camazotz, with its evil oppressor, the giant brain, would seem dated by now. But L’Engle’s storytelling holds up. The little boy who bounces the ball wrong, the fact that the brain is named IT, and the marvelous Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who still stand out in a field where books about saving the world threaten to topple the shelves in bookstores with their combined weight. – Kate Coombs (Book Aunt)
Why do people always call this an undeserving Newbery winner? Slug me in the face, why don’t you, people! Okay, it’s got its awkward bits, but if I hadn’t had "Hey, that’s one of those books They say is supposed to be good" in my head I never would have pulled that repulsive-looking puke-green book off the school library shelf in fourth grade, and then where would I BE? Where would my daughter Madeleine be? Well, named something like, Idaknow, Elizabeth or something instead I guess. The very core of my SOUL was changed by my giving that ugly book a chance. I so immediately and so strongly identified with Meg that the book has been like my own personal emotional counselor since. I was sitting in my university dining hall having a crisis-of-Major when Mrs. Whatsit, unbidden, just popped into my head to give me a pep talk! It’s so AFFIRMING. It says that love makes the universe go ’round and that everyone is inherently valuable warts and all and that even the most awkward unpopular frustrated and hopeless young girl can make a difference in the battle between Good and Evil. And it says all that in a way that makes you BELIEVE it. – A.M. Weir (Amy’s Library of ROCK)
I read this book nearly every year, whether it’s a library copy I pull off the shelf during one of my breaks or my cherished autographed copy. The plot has everything – a girl who feels out of place, a fierce love of family, a fight against conformity and a budding romance. – Rosemary Kasten
It demonstrates the power of love, wrapped in a breath-taking adventure. I picked this up 3 or 4 times as a kid before I got into it, and now I have read it so many times and have such clear memories of so many different scenes. Ultimately, this book is on this list because, out of all the myriad influences that blended together to create my personal ethical/moral code, one thing from this book I swallowed whole: When Meg cries out against IT, "Like and equal are not the same thing at all!" – Melissa Depper, Youth Services Librarian, Arapahoe Library District CO
I was so obsessed this book as a child that I freaked out when driving through certain subdivisions in Simi Valley, CA because they reminded me of Camazotz. – Gayle Forman
I have a vivid memory of the first time I read Wrinkle, at the age of about eleven. I was getting near the end when I had to leave on some errand with my dad. I tried, but I couldn’t tear myself away, so I took the book with me in the car. I still recall being scrunched in the backseat, supposedly on the way to someplace ordinary like the grocery store, but really trekking with Meg and Calvin through the frightening world of Camazotz, desperately trying to free Charles Wallace. I loved this book, not only for introducing me to Meg Murry (one of my favorite girl heroines of all time) but for introducing me to Madeleine L’Engle, the writer whose work for children and adults included some of the most formative books of my adolescence and young adulthood. – Beth Priest (Endless Books)
Love conquers all, what could be better? – Paige Ysteboe
Yeah. I loved it too. This one was dear to me. Alongside Harriet the Spy and The Girl With the Silver Eyes (note what all three girls have in common) it was one of my favorites. And yep, I have read it since I became an adult. I still love it. Just do.
The plot from my own copy reads, "It is a dark and stormy night. Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother are in the kitchen for a midnight snack when a most disturbing visitor arrives. ‘Wild nights are my glory,’ the unearthly stranger tells them. ‘I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.’ Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit and overpower the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?"
There is serious debate over exactly how many publishers rejected A Wrinkle in Time before it was published. Anita Silvey says twenty-six so for now we’ll go with that one. What finally got it out there? In 100 Best Books for Children she writes, "Madeleine L’Engle hosted a tea party for her visiting mother and some friends. One of those friends knew John Farrar of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and eventually he accepted L’Engle’s manuscript. But the publishing firm released only a small first edition, believing that the book would have limited appeal."
Also, according to American Writers for Children Since 1960: Fiction, "This book was written while L’Engle was reading Albert Einstein and Max Planck. It was also written as her rebellion against Christian piety; she was trying to discover a theology by which she could live."
If you haven’t read L’Engle’s Newbery speech it’s well worth perusing. Someday I hope someone reads all the Newbery acceptance speeches out there and writes an article about them. L’Engle’s is interesting because she really doesn’t talk much about the book at all. What she does talk about is Frederic Melcher, the Newbery’s daddy, and the fact that he liked her book. "I am of the first generation to profit by Mr. Melcher’s excitement, having been born shortly before he established the Newbery award, and growing up with most of these books on my shelves. I learned about mankind from Hendrik Willem van Loon; I traveled with Dr. Dolittle, created by a man I called Hug Lofting; Will James taught me about the West with Smoky; in boarding school I grabbed Invincible Louisa the moment it came into the library because Louisa May Alcott had the same birthday that I have, and the same ambitions. And now to be a very small link in the long chain of those writers, of the men and women who led me into the expanding universe, is both an honor and a responsibility. It is an honor for which I am deeply grateful to Mr. Melcher and to those of you who decided A Wrinkle in Time was worthy of it." Read the full speech here, if you’ve a chance.
What’s the book trying to say? In her April 12, 2004 New Yorker profile of L’Engle, Cynthia Zarin said of the book, "Published in 1962, it is—depending on how you look at it—science fiction, a warm tale of family life, a response to the Cold War, a book about a search for a father, a feminist tract, a religious fable, a coming-of-age novel, a work of Satanism, or a prescient meditation on the future of the United States after the Kennedy assassination." Executive producer Catherine Hand agrees with some of that. “The engine that drives it is Meg’s inner life, and it’s astonishing, because here is a girl who at that moment is stronger than her father. For some of us, it planted the seeds of the women’s movement.”
It also was science fiction, a rare bird in the world of popular children’s literature. In her 1982 article "Childlike Wonder and the Truths of Science Fiction" in Children’s Literature L’Engle defends the use of such science fiction and fantasy in the’ reading lives of children. She writes, "Recently I received a letter from a young mother who wrote that a neighbor had announced she was not going to allow her children to make their minds fuzzy by reading fantasy or science fiction; she intended to give them books of facts about the real world. For these children, I feel, the real world will be lost. They will live in a limited world in which ideas are suspect. The monsters which all children encounter will be more monstrous because the child will not be armed with the only weapon effective against the unknown: a creative and supple imagination . . . We do not understand time. We know that time exists only when there is mass in motion. We also know that energy and mass are interchangeable, and that pure energy is freed from the restrictions of time. One of the reasons that A Wrinkle in Time took so long to find a publisher is that it was assumed that children would not be able to understand a sophisticated way of looking at time, would not understand Einstein’s theories. But no theory is too hard for a child so long as it is part of a story; and although parents had not been taught Einstein’s E = mc2 in school, their children had been." Then she goes on to talk about Chewbacca (this is true). Good article, that.
It gets banned, and has been right from the start by Christian fundamentalists. Said L’Engle, “They said it wasn’t a Christian book. I said, ‘Quite right.’ I wasn’t trying to write a Christian book. But, of course, it is. So is ‘Robin Hood.’ The Mrs. Ws witches? They’re guardian angels!”
A Wrinkle in Time was mentioned quite a lot this year since 2010 Newbery winner When You Reach Me (#39 on the countdown) makes several references to it in the text. It even points out a time traveling flaw, which is fun. In an interview with The Guardian, Ms. Stead explained a bit about why she included it. "It started out as a small detail in Miranda’s story, a sort of talisman, and one I thought I would eventually jettison, because you can’t just toss A Wrinkle in Time in there casually. But as my story went deeper, I saw that I didn’t want to let the book go. I talked about it with my editor, Wendy Lamb, and to others close to the story. And what we decided was that if we were going to bring L’Engle’s story in, we needed to make the book’s relationship to Miranda’s story stronger. So I went back to A Wrinkle in Time and read it again and again, trying to see it as different characters in my own story might (sounds crazy, but it’s possible). And those readings led to new connections."
In Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, photo detective Maureen Taylor explains part of the appeal. "Meg was my hero. I immediately identified with her – we had poor handwriting, were clumsy, and wore glasses. I felt I understood her angst because we were both at an awkward age. I found it refreshing that a female protagonist could be intelligent and engage in scientific inquiry. It was a very powerful book for me . . . From A Wrinkle in Time I learned to believe in myself and – from Meg I learned that it was important to question everything."
Speaking of Newbery winners, Neil Gaiman dropped quite a bomb for many an American children’s librarian when in his Newbery speech he mentioned the change made to the first sentence of the British edition of the book. Instead of the simply perfect "It was a dark and stormy night," the British edition for a time read, "It was a dark and stormy night in a small village in the United States." Oog.
It won the 1963 Newbery Medal. It beat out Thistle and Thyme: Tales and Legends from Scotland by Sorche Nic Leodhas and Men of Athens by Olivia Coolidge.
In a kind of fun family tie-in, Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Lena Roy will have a book of her own published soon. In December of 2010 FSG will put out her YA novel Edges. And apparently she lives in town. I’ll have to look her up sometime.
Said the Saturday Review, “It has the general appearance of being science fiction but it is not. . . . There is mystery, mysticism, a feeling of indefinable brooding horror . . . original, different, exciting”
The Horn Book said, "Fascinating… It makes unusual demands on the imagination and consequently gives great rewards."
Here is a cover for the book that I wish did exist, but is simply an exercise from a talented Jeremy Sorese. Very clever.
You could hardly call this book bereft of covers, but there are far fewer out there than I would have supposed. The original up top, you will recall, was illustrated by a fellow Newbery winner.
Growing up, my best friend was so frightened of this next cover that she gorged out her paperback copy’s glowing red eyes.
Can’t say as it made him any less frightening.
This is still my favorite. I just like the Meg.
I have not yet had the pleasure of making the true acquaintance of the recent made-for-TV movie adaptation of the book. Having watched the trailer here, I may just opt out and wait until Jeff Stockwell’s version comes out instead. Maybe he‘ll have the guts to give Meg glasses. I’m not holding my breath though.
Previous Top 100 Children’s Novels Posts Include
Filed under: Top 100 Children's Novels (2010)
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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