Do you remember the first book you fell in-love with, the first title that inspired you to read, to ingest all other books and other worlds like there was no tomorrow?
I am sure that I am not alone when I tell you that A Wrinkle in Time was my book.
Thirty-six years ago, I was in second grade when Sister Madeleine Mary started reading it to my class. I remember sitting ramrod straight on the floor in my navy blue uniform dress and white knee socks, listening to Sister intone the words of Mrs. Whatsit and Meg.
I wasn’t reading books that complex yet on my own, but I couldn’t wait until the next week when Sister would read us another chapter: I had to start reading it at home. It was then that my reading took off, and my life was never the same.
Did it make a difference that my grandmother was the author, Madeleine L’Engle? I don’t think that the author/grandmother connection would be my only motivation to surpass my teachers’ reading expectations. It was the wonderful story that compelled me, and kept compelling me to rediscover over and over again. I am sure that I felt the closest kinship to the book when I was eleven or twelve, but that didn’t stop me from falling in-love with the possibility of “story” when I was seven. I grew up with the characters - I understood Meg, marveled at CW, and crushed on Calvin.
From the beginning, when Meg is scared in the attic on “a dark and stormy night” I slip into her skin, going downstairs for the comfort of hot chocolate and my mother and brother. I too am wary of Mrs. Whatsit at first, not trusting the world “out there” - the world that has not only taken my father, but uses his absence as a way to isolate my family. I too tingle with surprise when we meet Calvin in the woods and bring him home for dinner, and I am ready to believe the Mrs W’s when they call on us/them to save my/Meg’s father on the planet Camazotz.
It was the first book I read where I - so closely identifying with Meg - got to be the hero, where I realized that parents are fallible, and that anger and stubbornness aren’t necessarily “faults” - that our anger and stubbornness can protect us and serve a purpose. And that love is most important when it’s not just a feeling, but an action, a verb.
For it's fortieth anniversary, I developed a workshop based on Wrinkle - first for a Drama Therapy conference, and then for the education department at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I still love to lead this workshop: using both drama and writing exercises - with a combination of collaborative and individual work, my hope is for participants to emerge empowered through working with the archetypes of Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin. (I will be leading this specific workshop at the Mobile Library in Mobile, Alabama on the morning of March 3rd, and the Chappaqua Library in Chappaqua, NY on the afternoon of March 20th.)
Now to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of a book that almost didn't get published (26 rejections!), Farrar, Straus, and Giroux has republished a gorgeous special edition of A Wrinkle in Time with a stunning retro jacket flap in FLAMES, and then, when we remove the cover, SURPRISE! We are treated to the original navy blue circles gracing the hardback.
This Saturday, February 11th, if you are anywhere near New York City, come celebrate with us at Symphony Space at 4PM where my family and I will be in the audience applauding Rebecca Stead, Lowis Lowry, Katherine Patterson and others, who will be giving props to my all-time favorite book.
What would Gran think? I KNOW that she is thrilled that we are keeping her memory alive and that all of us are making such a big fuss over the 50th birthday of her amazing opus. We will be feeling her beams of joy radiating through the universe, holding us. All of us who love Madeleine L’Engle, whether as a family member, a friend or a fan - we all share in her legacy of the power of her written words and the joy of reading them. We have all become more quintessentially “us” because of “her”. Wouldn’t you agree?
What is your book, the one that turned you into a life-long reader? (For my boys it’s been Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.)