Over vacation, I reread Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. I read it a million times when I was in elementary/middle school, but I hadn’t read it in at least ten years. A little part of me was afraid it wouldn’t hold up. I mean, it was one of my favorites. I remembered it being so compelling. How could it stack up after so many years?
Guys, it was even better than I remembered.
The writing is stellar. I don’t think I really noticed that when I was a kid. It’s a beautifully written novel, and Babbitt is a master craftsman. For example:
“Mae’s husband, on his back beside her, did not stir. He was still asleep, and the melancholy creases that folded his daytime face were smoothed and slack. He snored gently, and for a moment the corners of his mouth turned upward in a smile. Tuck almost never smiled except in his sleep.”
What a gorgeous introduction to the patriarch of the Tuck family. You Tuck’s gentleness and sadness perfectly, and he’s not even awake yet. It’s brilliant writing. I’ve seen her speak on a couple of panels and both times she’s mentioned that children’s literature shouldn’t be dumbed down in any way. Children are savvy readers and deserve excellent literature. Her philosophy is obvious in her writing–the language is sharp, the characters are compelling, and the themes are moving.
Obviously, Tuck Everlasting is a children’s lit classic, and for good reason. Recently, I also came across Italian author Italo Calvino’s list of what makes a classic. A couple of points on the list struck me in relation to Tuck Everlasting:
- The Classics are those books which constitute a treasured experience for those who have read and loved them; but they remain just as rich an experience for those who reserve the chance to read them for when they are in the best condition to enjoy them.
- A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.
- A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers.
I came across Tuck Everlasting when I was a fifth-grader in the mid-90s, twenty years after the book was first published, so I’m hopeful that kids today are still reading it. When I was reading it over vacation, I kept thinking I wish I had a fifth-grade class just so I could use this book on my syllabus.
After finishing it recently, I thought: This totally won a Newbery, right? It’s brilliant. Of course it won. Then I checked the Newbery Medals and Honors list.
Shock: it didn’t.
The 1976 winner was The Grey King by Susan Cooper, so I can understand that winning. But there were only two Honor books listed–The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis and Dragonwings by Laurence Yep. Considering the committee can include more than two Honor books, why didn’t they call out Tuck Everlasting?
I’m sure the committee had there reasons, but for me it’s a good reminder that even beautifully written, emotionally compelling books don’t win all the awards. Maybe your novel is absolutely amazing, but there will still be agents and editors who pass on it, critics who write bad reviews, and awards you won’t be nominated for. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or your book isn’t good. It just means that sometimes the literary world is tough.
Really glad I returned to this beloved classic. Are there any books that you loved as a kid and reread as an adult only to find they’re still fantastic?