Like countless others, I treasure?Madeline L’Engle’s?1962 novel,?A Wrinkle in Time, a Newbery Medal winner (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, publishers). ?I can easily recall the first time I heard the strange word “tesseract” as my 4th grade teacher read this book to our class. My peers and I were fascinated to learn of this scary/thrilling way the book’s three child protagonists traveled through a tesseract — a “wrinkle in time” — to a distant planet where love must battle evil.
My well-worn copy of the book sits on a shelf of my childhood favorites. Yet when my almost-six-year old daughter asked the other night if I would read it to her, I hesitated.
The book’s science, philosophy and morality themes made at least some sense to me at age 10. Would they be way over the head of a recent kindergarten graduate?
As it turns out, part of L’Engle early struggle to get the book published (26 rejections in all) revolved around publishers’ confusion over who the book was written for, children or young adults.
Years later, L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Voiklis responded to this critique, noting that “even if a young reader doesn’t know all of the words…or if they can’t grasp exactly what a Tesseract is…it sort of gives room for the reader and shows possibility and a place where you want to go and understand.”
Her comment reminded me of two things: 1) the Robert Browning?quote (“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s heaven for?”) and 2) the observation of literacy specialists that children’s listening comprehension matures faster than their reading comprehension (so read kids those challenging books!)
These points were on my mind when my daughter pulled my copy of?A Wrinkle in Time off the shelf and asked, “what’s happening in this picture?”
I looked at the book’s iconic cover illustration (the original art that I greatly prefer, above, to the later version at left) and explained.
“The silhouettes are?the three children in the book. The swirls show them moving through time and space.”
“Where do they go?” she asked.
“They land on a strange planet with an evil character called “It,” I explained. “They have an adventure rescuing Meg and Charles’ daddy.”
Oh, it was SO on after that.? She insisted.
Last night, we began the book as a family. My husband and I chuckled again over L’Engle’s playful opening line: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Our daughter responded, “Oh, it’s scary already!”
With?chapter 1 under our belt, our kid is hooked (as are we). Yes, there are hard words and points of confusion, but we will “tesser” together as a family, helping her reach beyond her grasp.
Parents, do you have a favorite book from childhood worth taking on an early test-drive with your kids?