Natalie Babbitt (Juvenile Fantasy)
Winnie did not believe in fairy tales. She had never longed for a magic wand, did not expect to marry a prince, and was scornful—most of the time—of her grandmother’s elves. So now she sat, mouth open, wide-eyed, not knowing what to make of this extraordinary story. It couldn’t—not a bit of it—be true. And yet…
Ten-year-old Winnie Foster lives with her father, mother, and grandmother in Treegap. They were the first family in the area and laid proud claim to Treegap wood and the touch-me-not cottage that laid on its outskirts. She was the only child in the household and, on this particular day, she was bored. And hot. And it’s only the first week in August. After being pecked at by both her mother and grandmother, Winnie ventures outside to seek solitude. But peace won’t be hers that day for a man in a yellow suit comes up to the iron fence and is looking for a family. He also has a particular interest in their wood. Winnie has never ventured outside the fence let alone into the wood. Maybe she can find some solitude there. And who knows? Maybe she’ll find something interesting.
Written in 1975, Tuck Everlasting has sold over 5 million copies and is considered a modern classic in children’s literature. It’s the story of the Tuck family—father and mother (Angus and Mae), and brothers Miles and Jesse—who drink from a spring in Treegap wood and inadvertently discover immortality. They’ve been able to keep their secret safe until a chance encounter with Winnie Foster threatens everything they’ve been concealing. Tuck Everlasting is folkloric in nature and woven with bits of fantasy, drama, and a touch romance. It’s written for ages 10 and up and its broad-based themes of sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, love, and family ensures a very wide appeal.
Babbitt delivers a detailed and beautifully told story that is rich in symbolism. Watch for the toad that pops up throughout various points in Winnie’s story. He’s more than just a convenient friend and marks notable shifts in Winnie’s maturity. There are also numerous mentions of imprisonment or feeling trapped. At one point, Winnie recalls a verse from an old poem (Richard Lovelace’s 1642 poem “To Althea, from Prison”) which goes, “Stone walls do not a prison make, / Nor iron bars a cage.” Winnie feels imprisoned by her mother and grandmother (and the literal iron bars that surround her yard) while the Tucks are prisoners of time itself. Both are trapped, but Winnie alone has any future chance of escape.
Tuck Everlasting was a quick read packed with moral lessons and questions (Would you want to live forever?). The only criticism I had was that the ending felt forced and rushed. Babbitt spent such an inordinate amount of time painting this detailed image of the wood and the Tucks into our minds, that the end fell a little flat. This was one of those stories that an additional twenty pages might have helped give a more ample and satisfying conclusion rather than a one- to two-page condensed summary that wrapped everything up. It just left this wonderful journey feeling incomplete and inadequate.
In closing, I will repeat a bit of wisdom that Miles imparted to Winnie, “People got to do something useful if they’re going to take up space in the world.” During my limited time of taking up space in this world, it is my hope that my reviews and insights provide you with something useful and perhaps even help you discover a book and a story that will stay in your heart forever.
*Book cover image attributed to www.target.com
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