Have you ever come to the end of a book and felt as if you could be friends with one of the characters? Or maybe you’ve come to the end of a book and felt as if you could be one of the characters? Authors, even ones who make up stories, often write about what they know and who they know, and sometimes they make up characters who are just like themselves.
Madeleine L’Engle wrote “A Wrinkle in Time” more than 50 years ago about a girl named Meg Murry, who is smart and strong but who feels that she doesn’t fit in. Meg travels with her brother, Charles Wallace, and a friend, Calvin, to a planet called Camazotz to find her scientist father, who has disappeared. There she has to figure out how to use her unique talents to survive.
This year is the 50th anniversary of “A Wrinkle in Time” winning the Newbery Medal, an award for the best kids books. L’Engle died in 2007 at age 88, but L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis, 42, is using the anniversary to talk about what L’Engle was like.
“She really was a lot like the character Meg,” Voiklis says of her grandmother. “She was very passionate and emotional.”
L’Engle wrote “Wrinkle” in three months, but it took her more than a year to get it published. It was rejected by dozens of publishers. (Publishers are the people who put books together and then sell them to bookstores.) Some publishers thought its themes would be too hard for kids to understand. Others questioned if a science-fiction book with a girl as the main character could succeed. (Some people thought like that 50 years ago.)
Finally, one publisher, John Farrar, decided that “Wrinkle’s” uniqueness was what made it worth publishing. He didn’t expect it to sell many copies, though, let alone win the Newbery. L’Engle herself was surprised that so many kids loved the book. She didn’t set out to write a kids book. She wrote what was in her head, whatever that was, and she felt she had no power to change the story that came out.
“She put a lot of trust and a lot of responsibility on children,” Voiklis says. “Which is why her fiction is so successful. Kids read it and understand that they are not being talked down to.”
Voiklis was very proud of her grandmother when she was growing up. When Voiklis was a teenager, she lived with her grandmother in New York City. It was then that she realized how hard her grandmother worked, getting up to write everyday by 8 a.m. and not stopping until 4 or 5 p.m. L’Engle would write everywhere, too: on the train, at the airport. She would pull out a long, yellow, lined notepad and write.
“She thought through her fingers,” Voiklis says. “And so needed to use them every day.”
In “Wrinkle,” Meg is very good at math, but she doesn’t complete her equations in the way that her teachers want her to. That sounds a lot like L’Engle, who didn’t write a book in the way that publishers thought she should. Meg’s unusual math skills ended up playing an important role in the conclusion of “Wrinkle.” L’Engle ended up writing a book that people are still reading and talking about 50 years later. Maybe doing things differently is not such a bad idea.