When Childhood dies …

Its always disturbing to read of the death of someone that we have long admired, but its perhaps even more jarring to find out a person has been dead for some time and never having been aware of it. I’ve had an experience like that today, involving an author who figured very prominently in my young life.

I’ve always been a reader, for as long as I can remember. As I’ve been discussing in an online discussion elsewhere, I actually have no memory of not being able to read … my earliest memories include my mother and I reading together, and me sounding out words with her. From that point forward, reading has been a vital part of who I was, and who I’ve become.

There are a few books that I “remember” vividly from when I was younger. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the classic Douglas Adams SF spoof, certainly tops any list that I could come up with, as would Tolkien’sThe Hobbit” and Asimov’sFoundation” and “Robot” stories. The works of Terry Pratchett and Stephen R. Donaldson must also have a high place on th list.

But as is true with “first times” everywhere in life, the first novel I ever read was a truly memorable experience. It started me on a path of reading, and reading SF, as well as critical thinking. It developed a love of reading, and I think began my love of writing as well. It was, in my opinion, one of the best examples of children’s literature ever written. “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle wasn’t just a great story for children, but rather an example of great literature written for children.

I stumbled across an article today, written earlier this month, shortly after her death, talking about the shock of someone else who read “A Wrinkle in Time” as a young child, and had a similar experience with it as I did, when they found out about L’Engle’s death earlier this month. I can relate to her shock and sadness and mine is made all the more poignant by the fact that I missed the news originally. More than just the author of a book I enjoyed, in many real ways, L’Engle is the reason you are reading this blog today … that book gave me a love of the written word that is in evidence in this blog today, and while it wouldn’t have changed anything for her, I would certainly have liked to note her passing in a more timely fashion.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
Madelaine L’Engle

More than any other quote I’ve seen of hers, this quote highlights a fundamental aspect of her writing … she never spoke down to her audience, regardless of who they were, and as Laurel Snyder wrote in her article about it for Salon, she had “such deep respect for children, and for the complicated means through which they approach the world.” She wrote about complex ideas in language that children could readily understand … a Wrinkle in Time presents ideas like quantum mechanics, space time, and mitochondrial DNA in a way that is easily understandable for 10-12 year olds, and that is no small feat.

I never met her in person … the only connection I have to her is through her books. But I still feel a sense of loss upon hearing the news of her death. A Wrinkle in Time is the reason that I am both a reader and a writer today, and I simply can’t imagine not having this love of literature … It would represent more than a change, and instead make me a wholly different person than I am today. I’ve never seen another contemporary writer who could so effortlessly present complex and difficult topics to children in such a clear, direct way, nor have I seen character development as precise and detailed as hers. As Snyder wrote, she had no peers among her peers, and you really need to start looking to names like Carroll or Lewis to find her equal among writers for children. Thats pretty vaunted company, but it is very much deserved for L’Engle. Rest in Peace Madelaine, and thank you for inspiring a life-long love of the written word.


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