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
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?