Thursday, July 28, 2011

Notes For July 28th, 2011

This Day In Writing History

On July 28th, 1932, the famous American children's novelist Natalie Babbitt was born. She was born Natalie Zane in Dayton, Ohio, but the family moved around frequently. Growing up during the Great Depression, Natalie enjoyed reading fairy tales, folklore, and books about mythology.

When she discovered an illustrated copy of Lewis Carroll's classic Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Natalie determined to become a children's book illustrator when she grew up. Her mother, an amateur landscape and portrait painter, encouraged her. She gave Natalie art lessons and made sure she always had enough paper, colored pencils, and paints.

Natalie Babbitt studied art at the Laurel School for Girls in Cleveland and at Smith College. After graduation, she married Samuel Babbitt and bore him three children. She spent the next ten years as a stay-at-home mom, though when her husband became the president of Kirkland College in New York, she performed all the duties of a college president's wife, including attending various functions.

In the late 1960s, Natalie and her husband collaborated on a children's book called The Forty-Ninth Magician. Samuel wrote the story and Natalie drew the illustrations. The book, published in 1966, was successful. Unfortunately, Samuel's work left him little time to write, so further books were out of the question. Natalie's sister asked her to draw the illustrations for a comic novel she'd written, but that panned out due to her constant rewrites, which required Natalie to keep drawing new pictures.

Frustrated, Natalie Babbitt decided to write her own books. Her first solo effort, Dick Foote and the Shark, was published in 1967. With her enchanting fairy tales, she made a name for herself as one of the best children's writers of all time. She also has a gift for humor and satire. In 1974, Natalie published The Devil's Storybook, a collection of humorous Saki-esque short stories featuring the Devil as the main character.

The Devil's Storybook has nothing to do with religion. Instead, it presents the Devil as a comic character. As Jean Stafford, book critic for the New Yorker magazine, noted: "This Devil is not dire; he is a scheming practical joker and comes to earth often when he is restless, to play tricks on clergymen, goodwives, poets, and pretty girls." Natalie Babbitt's ferocious wit, combined with her hilarious illustrations, made The Devil's Storybook a favorite of both children and adults. In 1987, Babbitt published a sequel, The Devil's Other Storybook.

Natalie Babbitt is, of course, best known for her fairy tales and fantasy stories. In 1975, she published Tuck Everlasting, a novel that most of her fans (including me) consider to be her best work. Set in 1881, the novel tells the story of Winnie Foster, a bored and lonely 10-year-old girl stifled by her wealthy, overprotective parents. She escapes from them by exploring the forest near her home. One day, she finds a mysterious family, the Tucks, (mother Mae Tuck, her husband, and their two sons) living in the middle of the woods.

The Tucks have a secret, which Winnie discovers: they are immortal - the result of drinking water from a hidden, magical spring. Winnie befriends the Tuck family and promises to keep their secret. She grows close to their younger son, 17-year-old Jesse Tuck, and thinks that it must be wonderful to live forever. But she soon realizes that immortality is more of a curse than a gift. The Tucks live a lonely, isolated existence, trying to prevent their secret from being revealed, for then everyone would want to be immortal, and the world would become a terrible place.

When Mae Tuck kills a man to save Winnie, she's sent to prison, but Winnie helps her escape. The Tucks flee, taking their secret with them - except for some magic spring water which Jesse Tuck gave to Winnie. Will she drink it when she turns seventeen so she can marry him and live forever?

Tuck Everlasting was adapted twice as a feature film, first in 1981 - a rarely seen, independently made gem that really captured the essence of Natalie Babbitt's novel - then again in 2002. The 2002 version was a Disney film - a horrible adaptation that turned Babbitt's great novel into a sappy teen romance - despite the fact that Winnie Foster is only ten years old in the book. The movie was panned by critics and film goers alike.

In 1977, Natalie Babbitt published The Eyes of the Amaryllis, a haunting tale of the supernatural. It's summertime, and 11-year-old Geneva "Jenny" Reade has been sent to stay with her grandmother for a while and help the old woman, who has broken her leg. Jenny's grandmother believes that her husband, who went missing at sea thirty years ago, will soon send her a sign of his love.

Jenny doesn't believe her - until she meets the ghost of a drowned man named Seward. Seward is tasked with returning to the sea anything of value that may wash up on shore. When Jenny finds an object of value that washed up, her grandmother believes that it's a sign from her husband. But Seward warns them that the sea wants it back - and will take it back by force if necessary.

The Eyes of the Amaryllis was adapted as a feature film in 1982 - an excellent, independently made film that wonderfully adapts Natalie Babbitt's novel to the screen. It features a memorable performance by 11-year-old Martha Byrne as Jenny Reade. A year later, she would star in the science fiction classic, Anna to the Infinite Power - another indie gem.

Natalie Babbitt has written seventeen children's books. Her latest, Jack Plank Tells Tales, was published in 2007. In addition to writing, she also serves as a board member of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance.

Quote Of The Day

"Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don't have to live forever, you just have to live." - Natalie Babbitt

Vanguard Video

Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for the 2002 feature film adaptation of Natalie Babbitt's classic novel, Tuck Everlasting. It's a poor adaptation, but this trailer was all I could find, and it does give you some idea of what the book is about. Enjoy!

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