Wonder and Wisdom: The Time Quintent

For a book that is included on every elementary recommended reading list and has been adapted into several feature-length films, I believe that A Wrinkle in Time is a criminally underrated book, and the rest of the series even more so. It’s difficult to explain my attachment to this series, but the unparalleled Madeline L’Engle created characters and a world in her works so interesting that I regularly reread and take inspiration from them to this day. So today, I want to write a tribute to my favorite children’s author. For readers, please take this as a wholehearted recommendation. For writers, this is my attempt to break down what makes L’Engle’s writing so impactful, so we can learn from her style and craft similarly beautiful works ourselves.

Capturing Wonder

For a brief, illuminating second, Meg’s face had the listening, probing expression that was so often seen on Charles’s. ‘I see!’ she cried. ‘I got it! For just a moment I got it! I can’t possibly explain it now, but there for a second I saw it!”

A Wrinkle in Time, on the Tesseract

Children are creative scientists – their entire existence centers on learning more about the world each day, and learning how to make their own place in it. If you’re reading this, you probably never lost that spark of curiosity. We live for this moment of epiphany, even as we know there is an ENDLESS amount of information yet to explore. I think this is also why speculative fiction is so appealing. Not only do we have our world to explore, but we can make whole worlds with our imaginations, be they mystical realms or distant planetoids.

In a book where the magic system works through physics and 5th dimensions, she also doesn’t shy away from the metaphysical questions of good and evil. This series treats religion and science as two different, but not opposed, methods of discovering truth. The characters grapple with questions about their place in the cosmos, what is means to be good or evil, and the nature of love. The concepts are never dumbed down, though the prose is accessible to an elementary audience. Reading these books gave me the vocabulary to talk about these ideas and made me feel like I deserved to be taken seriously. We contextualize our experiences in terms of stories, and what we don’t yet understand, we call magic.

L’Engle takes this philosophy to heart with her choice of genre. She doesn’t just blur the line between allegory, mythology, fantasy, and science fiction; she posits that there is no distinction. With every possibility open to experimentation, she created a unique spin on our universe that captured my imagination as a child. This is the book that made me say, “I want to write like this one day.”

Encouragement

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”

Madeline L’Engle

Throughout the series, the characters must fight various forces of evil, which seek to tear apart their family and their word. Just because children are young doesn’t mean they don’t encounter evil. Good protectors may shelter them from harm, but they still meet it in the daily troubles of school and home life, and without stable parents and guardians, they are even more vulnerable. This book is honest. Meg and Charles deal with bullies. Their father is missing. Their teachers and principal are unfair. Life is pain, highness, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

But you can fight back. The story shows the characters putting their lives on the line to protect their loved ones. Their actions prove you can fight IT. The black thing is huge and terrifying, but it is not all-powerful. Meg both beats and forgives her bullies. They might not release the people of Camazotz, but they save their father. It is inspiring to read about this bittersweet, stubborn hope overcoming an evil greater than any one person. The characters earn a happy ending, but at no point do you take their struggle for-granted and it always struck me as more real than much of children’s media that takes a saccharine-saturated optimistic view of the world.

Belonging

“A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.”

A Circle of Quiet

Meg is an oddball – the “before” of every teen makeover with frizzy brown hair, thick glasses, and braces, a math genius that’s failing her other classes, quick with a witty comeback that infuriates her teachers, too impulsive and honest, which makes her socially awkward around her peers, and overly protective of a “dumb” brother. Charles is a pre-schooler who speaks in well-articulated sentences and comprehends complex metaphysical ideas, but refuses to interact with anyone outside his immediate family. Yet, their mother never belittles them for their eccentricities – she seeks accommodations, such as homeschooling or getting a typewriter, and gives her daughter gentle guidance to help weather the trials of growing up. The Murry family also accepts Calvin, who can mask his oddness to fit into a social norm, but feels out of place amongst his own siblings. Their home is a warm and welcoming shelter from the storms of both societal shunning and thundering wild nights. If you blew into town like Mrs. Whatsit, they wouldn’t hesitate to sit you around their kitchen table for a midnight sandwich.

But belonging does not mean conformity, and Meg resists IT’s statement that “everyone is equal, everyone exactly alike.” At home, they can be themselves without fear of judgement or retaliation, rather than changing who they are to avoid judgement and retaliation. Fiction is so often escapist, and giving the characters a place to retreat for comfort and safety also gives the reader that feeling of security. Whether it’s on the utopian Uriel or on Ixchel with Aunt Beast, L’Engle shows how important it is to have a small but close-knit community to act as a support structure, even when the evil is something you must face alone.

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.”

Mrs. Whatsit

Did you read this book as a child? What did you think of it then, compared to now? Please let me know what you think! Happy reading and writing. 🙂

5 ways to Encourage Kids to Read

When he was ten, my little brother was not a “fan” of anything. He enjoyed certain tv shows, but never got invested in the story and rarely read voluntarily, much to our mother’s chagrin. Mostly, he hung out with his jock of an older brother who poked fun at the fandom and writerly shenanigans of my marvel-obsessed sister and I, the resident Nerd and Author who “Care Too Much” about fictional worlds. Today, my twelve-year-old brother finished a 12-page-long original story, and is working his way through Lord of the Rings.

Around the same time, at the start of 2020, I was in one of the worst reading slumps of my LIFE. High school literature classes and a busy college/work schedule took my reading habit from several books a week to 1 or 2 a year. Thanks to a few beloved friends’ encouragement, I started the Stormlight Archive, and bounced back to reading over 30 books by this past year.

I’m not a teacher, or a parent, but I have learned a few things from watching his development these past two years, and watching the tricks that my friends pulled on me. For anyone else who spends a lot of time with impressionable kids and wants to play the (incredibly fun) role of neighborhood eccentric that sends children on adventures, here are 5 ways to encourage them to read.

1) Meet them where their interests lie

This transformation started with Avatar the Last Airbender. It just came out on Netflix, and we watched it as a family during the quarantine at the start of COVID. I could include him in conversations with my sister about fan-theories and subtext, and it made him feel grown-up to participate and contribute. When he came up with his own daydreams, I asked him to write his updates for me, and directed him to more reading material. Likewise, my friends indulgently listened to my writing rambles and gently nudged me toward a series they knew I would enjoy based on the similar tropes.

Try to introduce kids to similar genres as the ones they already enjoy. If they like a video game or tv-show, try to find novelizations or comics to accompany it. Show them how to use a library catalogue to look up the author’s last name and find other books. Listen to their rambles and ask questions, instead of just nodding and smiling. I’m sure we can all remember how hurtful, dismissive adults were when we shared our interests as kids. If they can trust you to be a supportive friend, they’ll be more receptive to your input in the future. I will accept recommendations from those same friends now with no questions asked because I trust their judgement on my taste in books.

2) Tell them stories

Making dinner? Weeding the garden? Folding laundry? Instead of putting on music or a movie for background noise, ask them if they want to hear a story. Humans have been telling tall tales over the household chores since the beginning of time, and oral storytelling is one of the most powerful gateways to voluntary silent reading. Tell them about crazy things you did when you were their age. Share your favorite fairy tales from that one obscure book in the back of the library. Pass the plot back and forth in a “choose your own adventure” never-ending story to let them contribute. Frame it as a fun way to make the chore less painful, and if they enjoy the story time, you might find them coming back to help if it means they can hear what happens next.

3) Don’t Gatekeep

Do they want to read comics? Fanfiction? Chapter books below their grade level? An epic that might be too advanced? Let them! If it’s fun, they’ll keep reading, and eventually move onto other types of literature as their tastes change. If it becomes a chore, they’ll lose interest and give up. This is exactly the tactic that English class pulled on me to put me into a 3-year-long reading slump. It says something dire when the most interesting and uplifting book we read all year was an account of the Armenian Genocide from a survivor’s descendent. If you want to nudge them toward the classics, there are easier methods than assigning something from an arbitrary reading list as homework.

4) Read together, Share favorites

Related to the above point about telling stories, never underestimate the sacred power of the bed-time read-aloud or a book club. Taking the time to read with someone else proves that you think the story is worthwhile, and there’s a special kind of joy in watching someone discover something you love. Take it from the Princess Bride.

If you know they will never pick up a certain book, such as a difficult classic, a long book they don’t have time for, or something outside their usual genre, reading it aloud to them is an excellent incentive. It outsources the work of reading to someone else and allows their hands to be free to play with blocks or work while they can still enjoy the story. If you don’t have the time to do a read-aloud, buying or renting them an audiobook can also be effective! I do most of my reading nowadays in the car while commuting to work.

5) Reward Initiative

The Annual Library Summer Reading Program was my bread and butter growing up. You logged how many minutes you read each day, which stacked onto your total tally. When you reached 200, 400, 600, and 800 minutes, you could redeem prizes and free books from the display. If you don’t have access to such a program, or it’s not summer, proposing your own challenge can take advantage of a competitive streak. Once, I bet my brother that he couldn’t read all 28 of the original Magic Tree House books before his birthday, and when he posted that last badge in his passport, he won a one-on-one ice cream date with me.

For me now, the chance to ramble about stories with my friends is incentive enough. They’re often subjected to “live-reactions” as I text my running theories. We usually meet up once I finish to have a debrief and share predictions for the next book. It’s nice to see them and share the excitement while taking a break from homework. And hey, I won’t say no to ice cream either.

Thank you for reading this post! I wish you the best of luck on all your bibliophilic adventures! Have a great day, and happy writing! 🙂

“Brigid’s Vists”

Meet Brigid! She is a minor character from my upcoming middle grade portal fantasy novel, Runaways. She is a friend that the sisters meet in the Seelie Court, and the leader of a group of “powers” – humans that the fae have blessed with phenomenal abilities. I got new markers for Christmas and had to try them out on the POV character of my next newsletter story.

Every three months, I release a new short that features a side character from some corner of my fictional universe, and Brigid is the protagonist of this year’s Christmas special! Why are you posting about a Christmas special in January, I hear you ask? Shhhh. The story includes time travel and the holiday liturgical season doesn’t end until the 6th. This is totally legit.

If you want to read “Brigid’s Visit” you can sign up for my newsletter at this link! It also grants you access to my backlog of stories, including “Jack of Fables” and “Matter.” I hope you enjoy reading!