Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Remembering A Grandmother

With each decade your reading life flourishes, growing in depth and breadth.  Regardless of the number of titles you read, there will be those books finding a permanent place in your reader's heart; some of them read repeatedly.  You will remember the wonder felt with the first reading.  With each subsequent journey you take within the pages of the book, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, the wonder returns. 

The books by author Madeleine L'Engle written for middle grade and young adults take your mind into places stretching your imagination and piercing your soul.  Two titles leaving a lasting impression on me are Many Waters from her Time Quintet and A Ring of Endless Light from The Austin Family series.  Did I enjoy the other titles in these two groups? Yes, I did but these two, after decades, I can still remember reading them the first time.  Knowing more about the life of this remarkable woman through Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by her Granddaughters (Farrar Straus Giroux, February 6, 2018) written by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy will captivate and inspire readers. 

We were young when our grandmother, Madeleine L'Engle, started sharing with us the patchwork of events, relationships, and emotions that shaped her into the person she was always becoming.

This first sentence leads us into a three-page prologue.  The authors are relating a personal conversation had with their grandmother about her time at the boarding school in Switzerland.  This is our initial glimpse at the strength of character possessed by Madeleine L'Engle and her brilliant insights into authorship.

In the first chapter we are acquainted with Madeleine "Mado" Hall Barnett, Madeleine's mother, and Charles Wadsworth Camp, her father, their pursuits, life experiences and their marriage.  A beautiful letter from Mado to Charles, serving in World War I overseas, speaks of the birth of Madeleine.  This is the beginning of the use of letters, postcards and journal entries in support of the narrative.

Page by page we are transported back in time following Madeleine from childhood, through her years at school in New York until sixth grade, and her three years at the school in Switzerland (They move due to her father's health after exposure to gas during the war.)  As tensions escalate in Europe coupled with Madeleine's grandmother's illness, the family returns to Jacksonville, Florida to care for her Dearma.  Madeleine and her parents remain there, even after the death of her grandmother.

It's as if we are side by side Madeleine as she completes her high school years at Ashley Hall, attends college at Smith College and begins work in the theater.  In each of these portions of her life, her writing never stops.  It shapes everything she does.  Through marriage, forty years with the love of her life, and raising three children, she writes.  Our reading lives are far better thanks to Madeleine L'Engle and now we have knowledge of why this is true.

This is a biography, when once started, has to be completed as soon as possible.  The narrative penned by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy enhanced with letters, postcards and journal entries is as fascinating as the stories written by Madeleine L'Engle.  We are able to see how history, family and a desire to become a writer all contributed to this woman becoming unforgettable.

The personal relationship Charlotte and Lena had with their grandmother and extensive research through her papers give readers an intimate portrait of Madeleine through specific details of significant incidents and years.  We find ourselves inwardly cheering for Madeleine.  We find ourselves comprehending the love these two women had and continue to have for their grandmother.  My copy of this book is replete with marked passages.  Here are several.

His moodiness did not stop Madeleine from adoring her father, and being a little bit in awe of him.  He was a force in the world:  charismatic, confident, and charming.  She watched him writing, absorbed in his creation of stories---real and fictional---and saw that it gave him both pleasure and frustration.  He wrote a first draft in longhand and then typed it out on a typewriter.  As a war correspondent, he typed his dispatches directly.  When Madeleine was ten, he gave her his old typewriter, which she used into the 1950s.

I am afraid of ideas tonight.  Mother and father talked politics for a couple of minutes tonight, and politics always get me jumpy when the world is in a mess like it is now, and so tonight I am afraid of ideas---not actualities.
An idea has more power over human mind than anything else---actuality you can touch, but ideas are elusive---ununderstandable.  But these thoughts have the power to make you understand beauty, fear, rejoice---almost more than actualities. (This is a journal entry by Madeleine when she was still in high school.)

Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by her Granddaughters written by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy is a superb collaboration; a masterful blend of narrative and letters, postcards, journal entries and other papers.  There are captioned photographs throughout highlighting the text.  It is a love letter, a tribute, to a life dedicated to writing, family, friends, a husband and her children.  I highly recommend it for placement in your professional and personal collections.  

To learn more about Lena Roy and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At this publisher's website you can read an excerpt.  If you prefer to listen to an audio clip, the link is here.  Here is the link to Madeleine L'Engle's website.  This is the link at the site to a blog post about the writing of this book by Lena Roy.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's website, Watch. Connect. Read., he chats with authors Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy about this book.  At teacher librarian Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes hosted by School Library Journal, Lena Roy shares three things which surprised her about her grandmother.  At Publishers Weekly is a post about the creation of this book with quotes from the authors (including information about the upcoming film, A Wrinkle in Time).  Both authors are interviewed at Barnes & Noble, BN Kids Blog.  Charlotte Jones Voiklis is interviewed at The Amazon Book Review.  Lena Roy wrote a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club about this title.

On a personal note my mother was two years younger than Madeline L'Engle.  They grew up in separate worlds but were still impacted by history.  After my mother passed away, in her book collection I found an unread copy of Madeline L'Engle's book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, autographed by the author.   I know there's a story connected to this book, but I'll never know it.

This title is considerable longer than a picture book but I feel compelled to include it as my entry in this week's 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator, Alyson Beecher, to view the other titles chosen by other participants this week.


No comments:

Post a Comment