August Augmented Fifths — 2/5 — Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

August 10, 2012

As a reminder of what these “augmented fifths” are all about, I quote from last Friday’s post: For the five Fridays of this month of August, I’m going to introduce you to some middle grade novels that to me are particularly noteworthy, that have augmented my life and led me to growth and discovery. I hope they will, among other things, lead you to the library where the anticipation of these “august augmented fifths” can find resolution as you read the book for yourself.

Not only has the book that I’m sharing today enhanced and augmented my life, but the person who introduced me to it has, as well. Since I blogged about libraries on Monday, it seems appropriate to feature a book that was recommended to me by a stellar teacher-librarian who touched many lives before her own life was cut short by cancer.

Connie Acton was equally at home in a canoe or a concert hall (she sang in the Philharmonic Chorus for years), happy outdoors cross-country skiing, or in a classroom sharing a beloved book. She had a real zest for life, despite her reserved nature. I was touched, extremely pleased, but not at all surprised, when I learned that the Saskatchewan School Library Association now presents an annual Connie Acton Merit Award (scroll down in the link to read about it.) She likely would be embarrassed to know that, but it shows what great esteem the provincial school library system still holds her in, that this award is named after her. She was the consummate librarian, with a great knack for matching books with readers. She was not shy about suggesting children’s books to adults, which is what she did with me. The books she introduced me to have become some of my enduring favorites. Such is the case with the one I’m sharing today.

Tuck Everlasting was published in 1975, and after 37 years, it continues to live on — as does the title family of the story. The language used by the author, Natalie Babbitt, by turns lyrical and grittily true-to-life, is one reason for the longevity of the book. The unusual and compelling storyline is another.

How could anyone resist these lines from the opening paragraph of the prologue? “The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. … … … These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.”

The story brings very disparate people together in strange and thought-provoking ways. The first characters the reader meets are a family of four, the Tucks, who on the surface of things seem quite ordinary — but this book does not deal with the surface of things. It is startling when the author bluntly states that the four members of this family “had all looked exactly the same for eighty-seven years.” Eighty-seven years before the August of the story, they discovered a spring, and since they were hot and parched with thirst, naturally they drank from it. That was the last “natural” thing they did. Gradually, as the years went by and all around them aged and changed as normal — and they didn’t — they realized that by drinking from that spring they had been graced (or doomed?) to never age, never change, never die. They were, through no choice of their own, everlasting.

Just as that thought is trying to settle in the reader’s brain, the next major character is introduced. Winnie Foster is a ten-year-old who isn’t allowed any freedom by her demanding and straight-laced family. She naturally seeks for adventure — and finds it when she ventures into the woods next to her house, meets with the Tucks and discovers their secret. They then are compelled to take her to their home (in the eyes of some, effectively kidnapping her) to impress upon her the importance of keeping the secret.

But keeping that secret is not going to be easy, for there is a stranger on the trail of the Tucks, a stranger who has guessed what is going on and sees opportunity for himself in the exploitation of the spring of magical water.

The interweaving of the stories of all these characters brings them to the brink of disaster, and the reader to the edge of his or her chair. The outcome leaves one wondering whether it would be blessing or curse to have one’s life go on forever.

The profundity and the grittiness of the story will be a bit too much for some young readers, while others will revel in it. It is certainly a book that stays with one forever, once one has read it. It would be a good book for families to read and discuss together. A google search will yield many resources for discussion starters, activities, and teaching tools for this book.

Title:  Tuck Everlasting

Author:  Natalie Babbitt

Publisher:  various

Genre:  Middle grade fantasy

Audience Age:  9 to 12 years and beyond

 

GIVEAWAY REMINDER! Remember that every comment on any post in my two August series, Mondays and Fridays, will be entered in a giveaway of one copy of Emma Walton Hamilton’s excellent resource book Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment. Note that it is FILLED with book recommendations for all ages of kids.

 

What book has a librarian recommended to you that has made a lasting impact on your life?

20 People reacted on this

  1. There was something poetically charged in the beginning excerpt. I haven’t read Tuck Everlasting, though, if memory serves me correct, I think this was turned into a movie. I could be mixing this up with something else. My apologies if that is the case.

    The fantastical nature of the story really appeals to my love of fantasy/sci-fi. I will have to check this one out. Thank you 🙂

  2. I just re-read this book and was blown away. The language is so deep, and you’re right – the overall idea is really profound and thought-provoking! I was totally taken by the book, even as a twenty-something.

    1. I’m glad to hear you recently re-read it and it had such a great effect on you — it’s an amazing book. Thanks, Allison!

  3. Great review, Beth! I don’t like the cover and think this is why I have never taken it off the library shelf. However your description of both plot and language makes me sure I have been missing out on something good!

    1. I far prefer the cover on my copy from the 1970s! I didn’t like the cover I had to link to at all. You’d love the cover of my copy! And I’m sure you’d love the book. Give it a try (open it quickly to avoid the cover image.)

  4. Lovely reviewBeth. I never read the book, as it came out when I was an adult and reading other books. I did see and love the movie and thought about looking for the book. I love the richness of the detailed you shared.

    1. I, too, was an adult when it came out. All the middle-grade books that Connie recommended to me, I read as an adult. (She was 10 or 12 years older than I, so although we grew up in the same town, we didn’t become friends until adulthood.) I highly recommend you find it and read it now! (And I need to see the movie!)

  5. Beth, I’m glad I stopped by. I love your review of this book. I must read it. I’m thinking this would be a great starter for the afterschool book club at the start of school. What do you think? Since there is a movie, maybe my adorable group of Relunctants could find this interesting. This was a good post, Beth. You have an amazing way with words, lady.

    1. Thank you, Pam! I’m glad you stopped by as well. If your Reluctants are in the target age group, I think using the movie to introduce the book would be excellent. You’ll want to read it first, and see if the reading level is perhaps a little advanced for them. Let me know how it goes!

      Thank you so much for your words about my words, as well. You are a dear.

  6. Isn’t Middle Years literature wonderful? Thanks, Beth, for highlighting a book that ranks well up on my all-time top ten list! I am very curious to see what your next three picks are!

    Tuck Everlasting is one of those very rare novels that I can read over and over and still find to be fresh and enchanting. It is one of my favourite read-alouds (and, interestingly, one novel that I was asked to reread by a class I encountered twice, once in Grade 5 and again in Grade 8). I often used portions of the prologue when teaching poetry and imagery to my students. The breathless suspense that carried through until the epilogue captivated my students, and often sparked the most wonderful discussions about the nature of eternal life, greed, good versus evil, and so many other “big” ideas.

    I have never seen the movie, partly because I am leery of being disappointed by it! I will be very interested to hear what you think, Beth.

    1. Thanks, Gilda! What a wonderful response. I love that the Grade 8 class asked you to re-read the book they’d loved when you read it to them in Grade 5.

      I will definitely let you know what I think of the movie!

  7. Connie sounds wonderful, and Tuck Everlasting is one of my favorite books of all time – simply excellent on so many levels! (I didn’t like the movie, but then, I pretty much never like movies made from books – I always think the book is better :))

  8. I want to say “A Wrinkle In Time” was a librarian’s recommendation. After seeing so many fabulous middle grade authors at SCBWI, I am really motivated to start reading through the Newberry List. I’ll make sure Tuck Everlasting is in there.

Comments are closed.