Wednesday, 28 January 2015
I read this for the 'Midnight Garden classic MG/children's read along' - go and check it out!
This is called a "timeless classic" but is not one I have ever heard of, let alone read. That's what I like about these readalongs - classic children's books over the pond are not the same in the UK, so for me I get introduced to a lot of new things. And, boy was this a good one!
I think everyone thinks about what it would be like to live for ever as a child. For most children, it is a dream, something wonderful, but even as a child, I didn't like the idea. And in this book, children are asked to question their beliefs that immortality is a blessing.
Winnie, a plucky young girl, stumbles across a stream and discovers that the water grants the drinker immortality. She is found by the Tuck family, who have drunk from the stream - and, as such, will never die. The stream has always been kept secret, but secrets get discovered, and Winnie finds herself caught up in trying to save the Tuck family and protect the world...
It is exquisitely written, it really is. I love it when children's books have real thoughtfulness and care into the craft of the writing, as well as the (arguably more important in children's literature) narrative. The descriptions of the natural world are particularly enthralling. Listen to these:
"The sky was a ragged blaze of red and pink and orange, and its double trembled on the surface of the pond like colour spilled from a paintbox. The sun was dropping fast now, a soft red sliding egg yolk..."
"The sun was a ponderous circle without edges, a roar without sound, a blazing glare so thorough and remorseless that... it seemed an actual presence."
"The big glass windows here were lidded eyes that didn't care - that barely saw them, barely gave back reflections."
Natalie Babbitt is a real wordsmith; I'd be glad to read more of her work. Her characterisation is also brilliant: subtle descriptions give us all we need to know the depth of their worries, dreams and habits. I loved Winnie, and I loved her toad. I loved the Tucks, particularly Mae and Jesse. And the air of menace represented by the man in yellow haunts the pages. Although a children's book, it deals with a very thought provoking dilemma, and hasn't necessarily the ending that you would expect.