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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

A Wrinkle in Time

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 25, 2018

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle is again the most-popular book in libraries, this time due to the release of the new movie directed by Ava DuVernay.


Actually, it never departed its popularity since its 1962 publication, and our online database shows that the collection of the 93 library systems in our shared catalog shows 43 different formats of the title from paperbound books to DVDs, from books on CD to large print formats.


Holds placed on the system for copies of some format are well over a 1,000.


A survey done 20 years ago of America’s libraries ranked “A Wrinkle in Time” as the second most popular children’s book after “Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.


And there is the problem, or rather the uniqueness of the title; what kind of book is it really?


Officially, it is a “science fantasy novel” but is it a children’s book, or a book for young adults, or a book for adults --- or are all the categories correct?


“A Wrinkle in Time” won the 1963 Newbery Medal which is intended to honor the best in children’s/young adult literature.


But everyone wants to read it.  It was written by a prolific writer who should be an example for first-time writers of today who are confused by their failure to find someone to publish their first book.


Madeleine L’Engle Camp was born in New York City in 1918, named after her great-grandmother.  She maintained a journal as early as age 8, but her early writings didn’t translate into academic success.


Today researchers can study her work at the L’Engle Collection at Wheaton College, especially her attempt to get “A Wrinkle in Time” published and the 26 rejection letters she received.


A friend who knew someone in the publishing field connected her with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which was primarily an adult publisher at that time, and they accepted it and continue to hold the publication rights to the 1962 work.


The book has never left print since its initial publication, and has been made into an audio book, film adaptations, a stage play, an opera, and graphic novel.


Its theme and plot were unique for a children’s book, or young adult book, or adult book in 1962, as literature was still emerging from the 1950s and “Tom, Betty, and Susan” readers.


Her works have been compared to the Christian fantasy works of British author C. S. Lewis.


Her family had moved around when she was a child, and she experienced many parts of the U.S. and the world which contributed to her writings.


Madeleine L’Engle’s religious background of liberal Christianity influenced her writings, as she served as writer-in-residence at New York City’s Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine.


She used scriptural references in part of her books, and challenged religious beliefs.  The book was often challenged due to its reference to witches and crystal balls.


The storyline seems to come from her experiences in the American West, compared to her time spent in the East and education in private schools and later at Smith College.


“A Wrinkle in Time” is considered to be one of the first books to focus directly on the deep, delicate issues that young adults face such as death, conformity, and truth --- making it quite different from other works of the 1962 era.


In later years, L’Engle was a speaker at countless workshops at colleges and universities, as well as library conferences in an effort to share writing with other authors.


She died in 2007 at the age of 88 in Connecticut.


It will be interesting to see the reaction to the recent film based on her book.