Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mainstream Author Highlight: Madeleine L'Engle

I know I've mentioned Madeleine L'Engle's works before, but since she is one author I come back to again and again, I wanted to highlight some of her best children's books.

L'Engle is a prolific author, but is best known for her 1962 novel, A Wrinkle in Time. Representing a departure from typical children's literature, A Wrinkle in Time was one of the first modern science fiction novels written for children. When Meg's father disappears while studying inter-planetary time travel, Meg feels like nothing will be right with the world again. Meg, her brother, Charles Wallace, and their friend, Calvin, are whisked away by mysterious strangers posing as friendly witches, on a dangerous rescue mission. Along the way to rescue Meg's father, they learn powerful lessons about the power of love and individuality.

A Wrinkle in Time is the first book in what is now considered L'Engle's Time Quintet. The second book, A Wind in the Door, finds Meg and Calvin desperately trying to save 6-year-old Charles Wallace, who is suffering from a rare blood disease. This time, they are assisted by a giant "Teacher" and his companion, a cherubim (Progo). L'Engle takes issue with the common perception of angels as fat babies with wings, and instead takes her description of Progo out of the book of Revelation. He has many wings, is covered with eyes, and spouts fire. In an extension of the lessons in A Wrinkle in Time, Meg learns that God has created and named even the most unlovable people in our lives. In order to save Charles Wallace, she must choose to love even those she dislikes.

In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Charles Wallace has grown up, and is chosen to save the world from imminent nuclear disaster. By traveling through time with a Guadior, a white unicorn, Charles Wallace can find and change "might-have-beens." "Might-have-beens" can be insignificant or momentous events when one person's choice can change the course of history. Readers will wait with baited breath to find out whether Charles Wallace can avert disaster or not. They will also see the importance of making wise choices and doing the right thing.

I have reviewed Many Waters before, but in it, Meg and Charles Wallace's brothers go back in time to Noah's day, and experience life directly before the great flood.

The last book in the Time Quartet is An Acceptable Time. In it, Meg and Calvin's daughter Poly accidentally travels through a time portal to the days when Native Americans still lived in New England. Her very sick friend, Zachary, travels with her. But when Zachary is willing to let Poly be sacrificed in order to save himself, Poly must choose forgiveness over anger.

L'Engle has written many other children's books. She writes realistic fiction about the Austin family in books such as Meet the Austins, and Dragons in the Waters, and The Young Unicorns are mysteries. Many of her adult non-fiction books chronicle her journey from skepticism to faith.

What I Like: I always appreciate the way faith and powerful life lessons show up while you are reading an exciting adventure story. I can relate to L'Engle's characters, who struggle with their emotions and decisions, but who want to do the right thing.

I also like L'Engle's intelligent, sophisticated writing. She quotes philosophers, explains geometry, Einstein's theory of relativity, and the function of mitochondria within a cell, all in the context of children's books. She isn't afraid to write about complex ideas, and the way she explains them makes readers want to know more.

What I Dislike: Nothing, but a word of caution. Some of L'Engle's adult books deal with heavy, adult themes, and should be screened before children read them. Also, her teen book, A House Like a Lotus deals with themes of premarital sex and homosexuality.

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: Varies--8-12, teen and young adult

Publisher Info: (Time Quintet) Yearling, 1962-1989; ISBN: 0-440-49805-8; Paperback, 211-310 pages, $34.99.

Buy The Time Quintet Now at for $21.49

OR Buy it at for $23.09.


Ticia said...

I read "A House Like a Lotus" in high school or college and still refuse to pick it up again to this day because it so upset me what she did and how she had the characters act in that book. I really was upset with Polly for the decisions she made.

For some reason the pre-marital sex and other problems don't bother me as much in her adult books, but I think it's mainly because it's a novel for adults, and it never seems to be done without there being consequences for their decisions, and it's just handled better. "House Like a Lotus" just seemed to be handled poorly.

Erin said...

I agree, and I remember being shocked by the book. I had read many of her other books, but I wasn't old enough to read "House Like a Lotus." However, I suppose, with over 60 books published, there are bound to be a couple that aren't that great. So many of her other books are excellent.

Thanks for writing and reading CCBR! Erin