Wrinkle in Time: By Madeleine L’Engle
Wolves of Willoughby Chase: By Joan Aiken
To Kill A Mockingbird: By Harper Lee
Blogpost by Benita Strnad, Curriculum Materials Librarian, McLure Education Library
The book world celebrated the Golden Anniversaries of three very important works of Young Adult Literature in 2012. In February the publishing firm of Farrar Straus & Giroux threw a big 50th birthday party for “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. This fall Doubleday celebrated the publication of “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” by Joan Aiken. Here in Alabama the 50th anniversary of the coming out of “To Kill a Mockingbird” passed without much fanfare. All three of these books were landmark publications and brought fame, if not fortune, to their authors, and hours of pleasure to millions of readers over the years. Each of them was iconic in their own way. If you are looking for books to give to children and young adults in your lives in the next few weeks consider giving one of these three books.
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“A Wrinkle in Time” was a book that couldn’t find a publisher because it was so different. L’Engle was studying, what was then, the revolutionary field of quantum physics while she was taking a ten week camping trip across the U. S. with her family in 1959. She states that she saw landscapes that were totally alien to her and combined with the material she was reading she began to imagine a who new world. The genre of science fiction was only in its infancy when L’Engle completed the book and started sending it to publishers. They weren’t sure how this genre was going to be accepted by the public and so were leery of the manuscript when it arrived on their desks for several reasons. It featured a female protagonist in an area that in the early 60’s was considered a male profession, it dealt with sophisticated scientific concepts that weren’t yet widely known, it dealt with evil in a very real way, which was not part of children’s literature, making it difficult for publishers to decide if it was a book for children or adults. As a result, the book was rejected by 26 publishers before Farrar Straus & Giroux accepted it. The year it was published it was awarded the Newbery award from the American Library Association, an edgy and somewhat radical departure from more mainstream titles that had won past awards. The novel has stood the test of time and is still widely read and has been in continuous print since its publication. Eventually, L’Engle published four other books about the Murry family that are known as the Time Quintet.
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“Wolves of Willoughby Chase” was first published in Great Britian in 1963 and subsequently in the U. S. The author, Joan Aiken, was the daughter of famed American poet Conrad Aiken, and was born and raised in Great Britain. Like “Wrinkle in Time” this was book that had a hard time finding a publisher. It defies genre categorization and sometimes is classed as supernatural fiction, alternative fiction, and fantasy fiction. When it was published it was one of the first works for children that featured alternative history and geography. Ultimately the book was the first in a series of 12 books that have come to be known as the “Wolves Chronicles.” These books vary in length from 150 pages to 250 pages and fit into that nitch of readers in grades 4 through 6 or 7, who are past introductory chapter books and yet might not want to read a novel of greater length than 250 pages. With time the “Wolves of Willoughby Chase” sort of faded from the view of teachers, parents, librarians, and readers, but with the renewed interest in fantasy and series books for children the book is back in the limelight.
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2012 is the Fiftieth anniversary of the film version of the book. The movie is readily available in Netflix if you want to watch the film, but it might be a good idea to revisit the novel during this anniversary year. Alabamians are mostly aware of Harper Lee’s masterpiece of a civil rights novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” as it has certainly become one of the pillars of American literature and its place as a classic is assured. The myth and legend of the book has only been enhanced by the reclusive nature of the author and the fact that no other book by her has ever been published leaving her with a perfect record in the bestseller category. Lee was well connected in the New York publishing literati of the era and so unlike the previous mentioned titles, she did not have much of a problem finding a publisher for her book. After it was published it was well received by the critics and became an immediate bestseller. It also won the Pulitzer Prize in the same year. Unlike the other two titles this one was not a children’s novel. It was published, and remains, an adult novel. However, it is now required reading in many high schools and so has found a place in young adult literature.
All three of these novels, once published, were successful titles, winning an immediate following and with the passing of time each of these titles has become an accepted classic in children’s and young adult literature. With the cooling temperatures outside, it is a good time to read, or in some cases reread, these 50th Anniversary titles. All of them can be found in McLure Library and in Gorgas Library. There are also copies at the Tuscaloosa Public Library. They can be purchased at either Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble. (They would make great stocking stuffers!)