One hundred years ago today, on November 29, 1918, a baby girl was born in New York City. She would grow from an awkward child who did poorly in school to an award-winning author of picture books to adult novels, family realism, science fiction, memoirs, essays on religion and music and writing. She would become most well-known and beloved for showing awkward teenaged girls everywhere that they, too, could be heroes of science fiction adventure stories. And just a year after she died, I named my own baby girl after her.
If you were at all paying attention during the first few months of this year, you would know that I may be a bit of a Madeleine L’Engle fan. (If you were not paying attention, here’s the master list of everything I have written about Madeleine L’Engle and A Wrinkle in Time on this website). I very well can’t let an important occasion like her 100th birthday go uncelebrated.
Macmillan, parent company of her original publisher Farrar Straus & Giroux, is celebrating #LEngle100 with a sweepstakes you can enter until 11:59 PM ET tomorrow night; Books of Wonder in NYC celebrated last weekend with the cake shown above. If you’re in Grand Rapids, MI, the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing is hosting a two-day event tomorrow and Saturday. And me? I’ve been celebrating for the past month, not so much the centennial of the birth of the most influential writer of my life, but the fact that my kids finally love her, too.
If you go and name your kids after your favorite things, there’s a good chance the kid will end up hating that thing out of spite. And my daughter Madeleine is a stubborn contrarian. She does love imaginative fantasy adventures, but it would be just like her to decide to hold Madeleine L’Engle personally responsible for forcing her to learn to spell a nine-letter first name, and reject everything about her outright.
She had just turned 8, and her brother 10, when I first tried to read A Wrinkle in Time to them. We got a couple of chapters in, but it didn’t seem to be clicking, and then the daughter came home demanding we read Harry Potter since her teacher had started reading it to her class and she needed to know what happened next, so now they both latched onto that series, which is, of course, very long.
They’d barely remembered those few chapters a year later, this past spring, when I took them to see the new movie adaptation of Wrinkle, which they enjoyed, but not to the extent of demanding to read the book now. And it was frankly a little worrying that young-Madeleine chose, as her favorite scene in the movie, the one scene that wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination in the book (though it was a cool scene). Whoops.
But a month ago, her brother was reading Rebecca Stead’s equally-Newbery-winning tribute to Wrinkle, When You Reach Me, in school, and kept begging to read it as a family. “I’m not reading that to you until after we’ve read A Wrinkle in Time,” I insisted. Sure, someone could read When You Reach Me and just accept that Miranda talks about “her book” an awful lot, without having actually read it themselves, but it’s awfully spoilerific if you do intend to read Wrinkle yourself, and my kids of all people needed to read Wrinkle. So we did.
And a year and a half made all the difference. We’d read so many long and complicated books in that time. We had just been reading Diane Duane’s Young Wizards books, which are even more stylistically and thematically reminiscent of Madeleine L’Engle when you read the two authors back to back like that. And the kids have grown, too. Young Madeleine is now exactly the age I was when I first discovered her namesake.
Now the timing was right. They exclaimed in wonder and shock. They actively shipped Meg/Calvin. They begged me to keep reading. And after the tomes we’d been reading this past year, we were through the less-than-200-page book in no time. And yes, dear readers, they loved it. And it did make the references in When You Reach Me far more enjoyable when we read that one, too.
I just had to bide my time. Happy 100th, Madeleine L’Engle. I knew my kids would come round to you eventually.