A Wrinkle in Time

wrinkle in time

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeliene L’Engle. Originally published in 1962. 228 pages.

While Peter Pan was our 4th grader’s latest literature class assigned book, this was our 6th grader’s most recently assigned literature book. I think I was the only mother in the class who hadn’t read it as a girl, but I’ve read it now and I’m glad I did.

While the dominant motif of this story is quite familiar, Madeliene L’Engle presented it in a fresh way that was sure to appeal to her young readers in 1962. It was a time of domestic and international political tensions paralleled with a transformation of cultural norms and mores aimed specifically at the youth of that era. As I read it I wondered how the younglings of that time viewed it compared to the young readers today. It is a book with timeless themes, like any one still worth reading 56 years after it was originally introduced to the public.

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of the Murry family, whose father has disappeared for the last two years. No one knows exactly where he is or when he will return. His wife, Mrs. Murry, along with their four children: Meg, twins Sandy and Dennys, and the younest and most exceptional Charles Wallace, are an oddity and source of gossip in their community for a variety of reasons.

Meg, the Murry’s teenage daughter, is the central character through whose lens the reader views most of what occurs. Charles Wallace, largely regarded by the townspeople as a dunce due to his self-imposed silence, is exceptionally intelligent and insightful but keeps this knowledge between himself and his family. Until the nearly equally exceptional Calvin O’Keefe joins him and Meg on an adventure to save the world from a darkness which trying to absorb everyone into itself and make the world a place of one consciousness and “unity”, but void of uniqueness.

They get a little help along the way from three immortal beings known only as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. These are three colorful, quirky characters whom only Charles Wallace really understand. You’ll have to read the book for more lest I spoil the plot and the ending.

One of my favorite passages, which captures the heart of the story, is this:

“But a planet can also become dark because of “too strong a desire for security … the greatest evil there is.” Meg resists her father’s analysis. What’s wrong with wanting to be safe? Mr. Murry insists that “lust for security” forces false choices and a panicked search for safety and conformity. This reminded me that my grandmother would get very annoyed when anyone would talk about “the power of love.” Love, she insisted, is not power, which she considered always coercive. To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.”

Grade: A-

Age level: 10+, though as usual, I am open to a different take. These books are a part of a series, and as I read the next two, I hope to review them here.





Peter Pan

peter pan

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie. Originally published in 1902. 151 pages.

This book was assigned to our fourth grader, who is a very strong reader, but the language and some of the themes have proven to be a bit more advanced than 4th and 5th grade. She is still reading through the book, reading the chapters as assigned by her teacher, but I forged ahead and finished the book. Firstly because I found it thoroughly enjoyable, but also because it will be easier to work through the narrations with our student having familiarized myself with the story.

The interesting thing about this book is that it is far less innocent and far more intense than the Disney-tized version of Peter Pan most of us were exposed to from chidlhood. This one is more violent, with more mature themes. It does contain a mixture of adventure and whimsy missing from the Peter Pan I was famliar with, however.

This quote from Peter, however, is the common thread we are all familiar with, and was one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.”
The characters were all engaging and entertaining, and even the villains, such as the pirate Smee, confidante and first mate to the fearsome yet ironically cultured Captain Hook, were the types that stick with you long after you close the last page.
Peter, the ultimate bad boy crew leader, was the character you rooted for because you were supposed to, but was not without less than endearing qualities. His Lost Boys were wonderfully innocent and faithful to him, while all of the female characters surrounding Peter were written with a coquettishness that was completely lost on Peter Pan. Nevertheless, Peter seemed to know exactly when and how to exploit the affection his charges and the ladies (Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, and Wendy) felt for him.
At the end of it all is the great and violent showdown between Peter and his Lost Boys and Hook and his pirates. Peter is the ultimate victor, while Wendy, John and Michael wrapped up their adventure, and headed home to their griefstricken parents. Parents who had kept a window open in anticipation of their return one day. J.M. Barrie had an interesting way of expressing what the narrator considered the heartlessness of the three children who flew away on an indefinite adventure, leaving their parents behind to fret:
Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked.
I found that quite funny, second only to Wendy’s exasperation with being the mother to the Lost Boys (Peter was their “father”):
Oh dear, I am sure I sometimes think spinsters are to be envied!
She says this several times, and although I heartily disagree with her, it is funny nonetheless.
There is actually plenty to be said about this book, but I recommend that you take the time to read it yourself as it is enjoyable on many levels. It is a perfect example of this quote from C.S. Lewis which I have always loved:
No book is worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally -and often more- worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.
Grade: A
Age range for this book,which is the original, unabridged version I’d put at 12+. I chose that not because of reading ability, but because of the violent content, adult language (nothing overly offensive, but still), and general level of maturity required to appreciate the themes and subtexts of the book.


Reading through a biased lens.

It occurs to me, although I certainly intuitively knew it before today, that when we approach any piece of literature, our experience and interpretation of that literary work is highly influenced by our pasts, politics, and personal psychology.

However, when someone else’s experience of a piece of literature is so far removed from mine that I am incredulous that we even read the same piece, it gets my attention. This happened to me quite recently and although my initial conclusions about the story in question didn’t change, I appreciated the opportunity to hear another point of view.

Fortunately, the story I am referring to can be read in as little as 20 minutes, so if any one reading here is interested in the context for what follows, you can click over and read Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace.

As I read this story, what happens in my mind is what often happens. In response to the obvious vain ingratitude by the female protagonist, various proverbs sprang to mind: “Pride goeth before a fall”. “A wise woman builds her house but a foolish one tears it down with her hands”. From the story’s opening line, I saw a protagonist who set herself and her husband up for misery of some sort or other down the road.

In contrast, I listened to a discussion where other well-read, educated readers found the protagonist extremely sympathetic, and her husband overly indulgent. To be fair, the discussion certainly included discussion of the importance of contentment, but overall my interpretation of this story was distinctly in the minority.

Rather than rage on with my particular views which were irrelevant to the story, I took a moment to examine which of my inherent biases made it hard for me to see this character in a sympathetic light. One such bias is based on the fact that I spent my formative years being raised by one parent, my father. Because of that, I am instinctively more sympathetic to the sacrifices and hard work of men who provide for their families. It has helped me tremendously in my “career” as a wife, but all biases have a potential to wall us off from other perspectives that are worthy of consideration.

I am happy to stand back enough to acknowledge this about myself, although I wonder how many of us are aware that our understanding of the world, history, and literature is largely hindered by the fact that our educational institutions treat all topics as if the world sprang into existence in 1920.

Big ideas offered in short stories.

In preparing for a class I’ll be teaching this semester, I have been reading a number of short stories. What started out as an exploration of short stories appropriate for middle school aged students turned into a reading of many other short stories purely for the enjoyment.

Inadvertently, I stumbled upon writings that helped me hone my thoughts on a number of issues, one in particular that has jump started my stalled research on a potential book topic. As a result, I am developing a true love of short stories, and encourage you to take the time to read a few. For people who don’t have copious amounts of time to devote to reading for whatever reason, they are an excellent way to read and enjoy thought-provoking, well structured stories.

A few good reads include (each can be read online at the linked titles):

  • White Nights, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The ironic title of this story notwithstanding, the tale of this lovelorn, Mitty-esque protagonist stayed with me for a long time after I finished it.
  • The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant. I chose this one for the slate of stories for our class. This lesson in the perils of female vanity is a timeless tale. Well worth the read.
  • Sweat, by Zora Neale Hurston. The tragic story of a black washerwoman and her abusive, insecure husband. The southern dialect takes a few paragraphs to get used to.
  • The Land Lady, by Roald Dahl. A creepy tale with a lot of room for imaginary exercise. We’ll be using this one in my class this semester.
  • Spunk, also by Zora Neale Hurston. This story of a fatal love triangle, contrasted against the tragic Sweat, exemplifies the observable love/hate relationship Hurston seemed to have with the ideas of love and marriage. On the one hand she found strong men electrifying but was equally wary of weakness in a man masquerading as strength. Again, language barrier alert.
  • The Gift of the Magi, by O Henry. I hesitated to include this one since it is so well known, but it’s probably been a long time since most of us have read it. A wonderful story employing literary irony and the beauty of selfless marital sacrifice. We’re using this one in my class semester because it’s more than just a Christmas story.

Feel free to add more short stories in the comments.

Reel talk: films I’ve seen recently.

We’ve seen four movies of late,  and they left some impressions. Some of the impressions were better than others, and all of the films but one were big budget flicks. We are a family headed by a lover of comic books, so I’ll start with those. The last film is one that can only be considered an artistic wonder, and it’s something original, unlike most of what filmmakers churn out these days. I’ll put the trailer at the end for those who haven’t heard of it. If you’re an art lover, you’ll want to try and find one the few theaters new you which is running it.

Thor: Ragnarok was an attempt to lighten Thor up, infuse some humor into the franchise, and reunite Loki and Thor in an interesting but shaky alliance to fight off their evil sister whom they never knew about until right before she showed up. Were it not mot for my general enjoyment of Mark Ruffalo and particularly Idris Elba, I wouldn’t have found it very entertaining at all. I give it a ‘C’ and don’t recommend that you see it if you haven’t already.

Secondly, we saw the new Justice League movie. My husband has always preferred DC to Marvel comics anyway, so it stands to reasons that we would like this one more. It was pretty good, and there weren’t any obvious attempts to shove PC narratives down your throat. At least, there weren’t any that one doesn’t expect in a typical Hollywood film. They stuck to the spirit of the comics mostly, unlike Spider-Man: Homecoming which was a disaster of a film more concerned with meeting a diversity quota and opening the minds of its audience.

As an aside, I noticed that the Aquaman of my childhood got a major upgrade in the Justice League. My childhood Aquaman is on the left, while the new and improved Aquaman is on the right.

It just occurred to me that my characterization of this as an improvement it pretty subjective.  As for the film itself, I give it a ‘B’.

We also saw Coco, Disney-Pixar’s latest. it was visually stunning and well presented. Because our kids have been taught and understand all the inherent theological falshoods and problems connected to the Mexican Day of the Dead, they saw this as fantasy and nothing more.  Read the review for this one at the Christian movie review site Plugged In for more information. The worst part of this experience was the 20 minute Frozen “short” at the beginning, which was not only long, but tediously boring.

On to more highbrow stuff.

Below is the trailer for Loving Vincent, a film in which every bit of the animation, and it feels like undervaluing it to call it animation, is hand painted by 100 artists in the post-impressionist style of Vincent Van Gogh. The film is an exploration of his tragic and short life which celebrated his art from beginning to end.

It was original, which sets it apart from most of what it out there today, and it was well done. I highly recommend it for art buffs and hisory lovers. You just have to find theaters which are running it if you’re interested.

Thus ends our recent foray into the movies. We have no intention of seeing the new Star Wars so thus ends our uncharacteristically busy movie stint for quite a while.

A Bear Called Paddington

A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond. Originally published in 1958. 176 pages.

This is a guest post written by our 9-year-old daughter.


A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond is a funny, peculiar and entertaining book. It is one of my favorites.

Some of my favorite chapters are “A bear in hot water”, “A shopping expedition” and my all-time favorite, “Adventure at the seaside.”

In the “Adventure at the seaside”, Paddington gets lost at sea with only a bucket and a shovel. With his shovel he paddled, while he sat in the bucket. Luckily a fisher man saw him, caught him with his hook, and returned him to shore.

I would highly recommend this book.

Captains Courageous

Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling. Orignally published in 1897. 144 pages.

Our 11-year-old had to read this book for her middle school literature class, so I read it also. It was at times a hard read, as dialect heavy books tend to be for me, and this one was heavy with various dialects of both the American seamen from the northeast and foreigners from various points around the globe.

However, I make a point of not being dissuaded by dialects when reading a book and pushed forward. Our daughter tackled this problem by listening to several of the chapters on Librivox as she read it, and it helped her grasp Kipling’s style -in this book- much better.

Captains Courageous is a very masculine book. In fact, if I have to answer the question, “What is Captains Courageous about?” my answer is manhood.  In fact I was asked this question. It’s about a boy, coddled, spoiled and entitled by his mother:

“Like many other unfortunate young people, Harvey had never in all his life received a direct order—never, at least, without long, and sometimes tearful, explanations of the advantages of obedience and the reasons for the request. Mrs. Cheyne lived in fear of breaking his spirit, which, perhaps, was the reason that she herself walked on the edge of nervous prostration.”

One day, as Harvey and his mother (his father is busy managing and increasing their multi-million dollar fortune) are sailing from America to Europe, he falls off the boat and is believed to be lost at sea. He isn’t lost but instead is rescued by a pasing fishing boat filled with men based on the New England coast. Men who are not scheduled to return to the east coast (where Harvey can be reunited with his parents) for another four months. He is eventually presumed dead..

Stuck on the fishing vessel with a crew of sea-hardened sailors from all over the globe, away from his father’s money and his mother’s coddling, Harvey has to work for his keep. He initially balks, but it doesn’t take long before the ship’s captain, Disko Troop, literally beats it into his head that he isn’t in New York anymore, he won’t be for several months, and that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

This book is ultimately about a boy coming of age, and becoming a man of character as he is influenced by the crew of the We’re Here. The rather obvious dichotomy between the understanding the two fathers represented (Disko Troop and Harvey Sr.) and the two mothers represented drove home to me how much Kipling was driving home the reality that there are things about manhood that women will never quite be able to grasp.

Lots of seafarer terminology is here and I had to look most of it up, and there Kipling spends pages describing the experience of ocean life. So much so, our daughter thought it would be valid to categorize the sea as a legitimate character, which I found very interesting and insightful.

This… This is a good book. It may have been a children’s book in 1897, but given the decline in most American’s level of reading, I feel completely comfortable recommending to anyone from age 12 to 92. Besides, what was it that C.S. Lewis said:

No book is really worth reading at the age of 10 which is not equally- and often far more- worth reading at the age of 50 and beyond.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Some racial slurs and religious slurs. Some murkiness on matters of faith that would probebly be best explored with children under 12. Death, violence, and peril are included as well.

Age recommendation: 12 +