Revisiting a classic

I think that everyone has a book that they read when they were young that made them feel like the author was speaking directly to them, as if the author could see right into their soul, and that no other person would read the book in the exact same way. The book that meant that much to me is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and I know that I pestered my parents and older siblings with constant references to book until they probably thought it might be worth ‘losing’ my library card for a few weeks so I’d find something else to talk about. Written in 1962, it was the winner of the 1963 Newberry Medal, and has never stopped being a touchstone in children’s literature (and, I really think, literature for all). I re-read it almost every year and our shelves at home have more than one copy because our kids have received it as a gift several times. It’s probably good that we have so many copies as each person will want one when they move out.

It’s not just that reading the book takes me back to a cozy time from my reading past, although in a way it does, because the main character – Meg Murry – has a loving family, a wonderful dog, supportive friends. In fact, the book is edgy and has more darkness than you would expect of a novel with a young main character. Part of the appeal of this book is that Meg is at an awkward time in her life, doubting her appearance and her place in the world, but she has to travel across the galaxy to rescue her father with the help of her incredible younger brother Charles Wallace and a new friend, Calvin.  The three kids at the centre of the story are united because they all see themselves as different from their peers and they know themselves well enough to place value on their ability to think independently. Reading this when I was little felt wonderful and I still value their loyalty to one another when I read it now. It’s a story of friendship and trust but the author had a glorious imagination like no one else I was reading at that time – unless I was taking books from my brothers’ bookshelves.

This novel shows all three children facing challenges, doubting themselves, seeing horrible danger approaching and at some moments they despair that they might not succeed in rescuing Meg’s father. Madeleine L’Engle chose not to ‘write down’ or ‘sugarcoat’ a situation for her readers and the first time I read this one I was so worried for the fate of Meg and Charles Wallace. It’s an adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat, casting Meg as the hero – a girl! – long before that was popular. She is the 1960s version of Katniss Everdeen but uses her love for her father as the weapon against the villains. As the child of scientists with a gift for math and a stubborn streak, Meg was an anomaly in the books I was reading and she continues to be one of my all-time favourite book characters. Her story, her love of her family, and the friendship she forms with Calvin has not aged a bit, making it possible to hand this book out to a young person at the library today and be confident that they will adore it.

Here is some great news for all who love the words of Madeleine L’Engle – her granddaughters have written a biography (for middle-grade audience but I don’t think that matters at all to fans of a woman who wrote for children with such respect) using their family stories, her own manuscripts and journals, and photographs as the basis for the book.  The book has been given the wordy title of Becoming Madeleine: a biography of the author of A Wrinkle in Time by her granddaughters.  I’ve read that her granddaughters had been thinking of doing something to celebrate the author’s 100th birthday (she was born in New York City in November 29 of 1918) and, inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics from Hamilton where the cast sings “who lives, who dies, who tells your story”, they knew what they wanted to do.  They chose to focus only on the years of her life up to when this novel was published and tried to examine only documents which were relevant to the biography in an effort to be respectful of their grandmother’s privacy. L’Engle had agreed for all of her papers to be housed at the archive of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois so I’m sure that they must have spent many happy hours there collaborating on this incredible project. It’s a book that will be popular with fans of all ages.

Another significant event happens this year to tie in with her important birthday – the much anticipated film based on A Wrinkle in Time. It’s been adapted before, once for TV, and it wasn’t exactly… perfect. We have that 2003 film here at the library if you would like to check it out. We also have a glorious graphic novel version that is so worth your time. I knew that this new adaptation was in the works and was thrilled to see that Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay would be the powerhouse behind it. It’s a tricky film to produce as Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin travel across galaxies and meet wonderful, magical, and spectacular beings so the special effects staff must have been working overtime every weekend. In addition to this challenge DuVernay is producing a film based on something that has lived on in memories for decades so there is pressure there to keep fans happy. In the novel the kids have three guides in their cross-Galaxy journey who are known as “the Mrs.” – sometimes referred to as guardian angels – and DuVernay cast Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. In a recent TIME magazine article she said that she chose them because she wanted “leaders – icons” to play these incredible personalities. Good or bad decision? What do you think? Well, they are such iconic women that I have seen three magazine cover stories featuring them, a Dec 25, 2017 TIME magazine cover, the February 2018 issue of Essence and March 2018 issue of Oprah Magazine. We have copies of these magazines on the library shelves and both Oprah Magazine and TIME are available for you to stream or download through the Digital Library so you can read all about the cast, the movie and how they feel about Madeleine L’Engle’s iconic work.  

I’m not sure how I will feel about any of the decisions the director and producers have made about the most recent film adaptation but I do know that the first time I saw the trailer (@WrinkleInTime takes you to the trailer and all kinds of great news about the movie) in a theatre with my kids I really did tear up. It’s beautiful stuff. And, more than that, it’s simply thrilling that so much attention is being paid to a wonderful story about children who are saving the world, going out to fight against a horrible darkness, to protect their father from something so cruel when they know that they might lose their own life in the fight. I am feeling a little bit worried about what Disney is doing with my very favourite story but I’m hopeful. Please don’t ask me how I feel about the sales of those A Wrinkle in Time Barbies

-Penny M.


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