Never Underestimate a Young Reader: About Madeleine L’Engle

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
– Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle was born in 1918 in New York City. She wrote her first story when she was 5 and began keeping a journal when she was 8. Despite her prowess in writing, she was not a good student. Her family traveled a lot and even lived by the French Alps for a while, and she received most of her education in various boarding schools. Madeleine went on to study English at Smith College from 1937-1941, where she graduated with honors.

After graduation, Madeleine worked in the theater in New York and wrote on the side. During her time in theater, she met actor Hugh Franklin, whom she married in 1946. They moved to the country for a while and ran a general store before returning to New York. L’Engle worked at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine where she was the librarian and writer-in-residence and had an office for more than 30 years.

From the 1960s through the 1980s L’Engle wrote dozens of books for both children and adults. Her most famous novel is our book for this month, A Wrinkle in Time, which was published in 1962 and turns 50 years old this year. The book was very close to never being published, as it received numerous rejections. Publishers complained that that the plot seemed too complicated for children. They didn’t like the mixture of science fiction and philosophy, and science fiction didn’t typically feature female protagonists. It was finally bought by the publishing company Farrar, Straus and Giroux. When an outside reader didn’t like the book, the editor admitted that it was “distinctly odd” but defended it by saying, “I for one believe that the capabilities of young readers are greatly underestimated.” (You can find out more about the story behind the publishing of A Wrinkle in Time in this NPR story.)

L’Engle’s editor turned out to be right. A Wrinkle in Time was an immediate success,  became a bestseller, won the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1963, and has continued to be beloved by generations of readers. L’Engle’s insistence on writing a book that doesn’t talk down to kids or underestimate them is part of the reason why the novel still speaks to kids today.

If you want a little more of a glimpse into what Madeleine L’Engle was like, look no further than A Wrinkle in Time’s Meg Murry, since L’Engle wrote a lot of herself into the character.  And you can also find out more on the official Madeleine L’Engle website, which also has links to a number of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time.

We hope you’ve been enjoying A Wrinkle in Time and that you can come discuss it with us this Thursday, May 10 at 7 p.m. at Paradise Bakery and Café at Hamilton Town Center. Remember that since this  month is our young reader book, any girls who have read the book are welcome to join us, too!

Happy Reading!

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