In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, March 4, 2011

First loves: science fiction

Dear Aunt Debbie,

All these sci-fi dystopian world trilogies make me think of the first sci-fi trilogy I fell in love with: Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels: A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  (It's ultimately a quintet, but I still think of the first three books L'Engle published as the real ones.)

You recently posted a wonderful 90-second video version of the book here, and it plays a pivotal role in the recent YA novel When You Reach Me; it's no surprise to me that L'Engle's work would inspire this kind of creativity.  Like every other girl in the world who felt at times out of place among her peers, I identified to the hilt with Meg Murry, and there is nothing better in a YA book than kids (Meg's little brother, Charles Wallace, and their new friend Calvin O'Keefe) banding together to save an adult (Meg and Charles Wallace's father).  Plus, scientific concepts, and travel through space and time, and a kind of mysticism throughout -- these are such great books.

I can still remember exactly where I was when I first read the climactic scene where Meg finds the brain, IT, in the room with Charles Wallace on the planet of Camazotz: my mom and I had gone downstairs in my elementary school to pick Michael up from his pre-K room, and my mom was talking for a long time with the teacher, so I kept reading.  The brain sitting, pulsing, on its dais (that's where I learned the word "dais") is linked in my memory with the bright walls of the pre-K room, the tiny plastic chairs and school-issue table I sat at, devouring the moment and at the same time scared enough by it that I had to make myself conscious of where I was in real life.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet was my second favorite, or at some ages my first: it has Charles Wallace being sent into the bodies of four different people at different points in time in order to affect the future of the world, Quantum Leap-style, while Meg slips in and out of telepathic communication with him from her perch in her old room, where she's sitting hugely pregnant with her first child.  (Meg's happy marriage to Calvin, and her adult beauty and auburn hair, were always a big plus for me.)  There's a poem, too, that needs repeated reciting: St. Patrick's rune, which Calvin's worn-down, unhappy mother teaches Charles Wallace at the beginning of the book and which begins the time travel via unicorn:

At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness
All these I place
By God's almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness!


I fell so in love with Madeline L'Engle because of these books that I went on to read pretty much every book she wrote -- and she wrote a ton of them.  Many are science fiction, many realistic fiction, and some characters move back and forth between the worlds.  I have other favorites too, a whole shelf full, but they're a subject for another night.

Love, Annie

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate this conversation about sci-fi books with strong female characters. I, too, love A Wrinkle in Time and have this trilogy in my classroom library and am always trying to get more of my 8th graders to read it.

    Right now I am in the process of ordering more books. So far, I added the Patrick Ness and Across the Universe books that you have blogged on. I would love your advice on the following:
    1) books that young adolescent girls can read who are interested in romance and relationships - who need to stop reading "chic" lit - Gossip Girl-like books - and who are smart enough to read more challenging ones. I can only think of Jane Austen but would like to recommend more modern literature.

    2) Jazzy has been expressing interest in the planets and the universe. What books do you recommend I read with her? We haven't ventured too much into nonfiction. We tried the H.A. Rey Constellations book but she didn't show any interest in reading it.

    3) Also regarding YA books, sorry about my disorganized thinking, how about books with more diverse characters, characters that reflect the multicultural demography of Brooklyn, NY?

    Anyway - as usual I love reading this blog! It gives me so many ideas of what to read!