Interstellar Space & Time Travel As A Cure For Car Sickness #KidLit

There’s nothing like a story about space and time travel to distract my poor kids from the discomfort of car sickness on a journey to the beach for spring break. We listened to the audiobook of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, narrated by Hope Davis.

The book begins with a “dark and stormy night.”

For our spring break, the forecast called for a string of dark and stormy days, which is far from ideal for a beach vacation, but thankfully, the weather surpassed our expectations. The sunny skies didn’t stop my youngest child from asking to stay in the car a few more minutes to hear a few more lines of L’Engle’s classic novel, which we finished on the return trip.

This is the first time my almost-seven-year-old has heard the complete book. I read A Wrinkle in Time to her sisters a few years ago when they were seven. Back then, after hearing the term Meg used to describe the person who stole Mrs. Buncombe’s sheets on that dark and stormy night, their pressing question to me was: “Mommy, what’s a tramp?”

“Tramp” isn’t a term I hear much anymore. Parts of this early 1960s novel are dated, but space and time travel never get old. Now, this classic has found a new fan in my youngest child.

As soon as when we returned from our vacation, my daughter went with her father to see the film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay. She loved it, despite noting what she thought were significant differences between the book and the film. She yearned for gentle Aunt Beast, and pointed out Calvin O’Keefe’s hair, which in the movie isn’t red. This discrepancy is quite a big deal in my household of redheads.

My youngest noted several other differences between the movie and the book, but never said anything about the characters’ races. The movie features a racially diverse cast, and the Murry family is interracial. Meg Murry, played by Storm Reid, is the daughter of a black mother and a white father. The book doesn’t address the Murry family’s race directly, but there are many references to physical traits associated with white people (but not always):

  • “Mrs. Murry’s flaming red hair, creamy skin, and violet eyes with long dark eyelashes, seemed even more spectacular in comparison with Meg’s outrageous plainness.”
  • “[Charles Wallace] looked very small and vulnerable sitting there alone in the big old-fashioned kitchen, a blond little boy in faded blue Dr. Dentons, his feet swinging a good six inches above the floor.”

And, of course, some of the covers for this book make the racial background of the main characters more clear:

I wish I could say that the all-white cast of the book is one of the outdated aspects of A Wrinkle in Time, but while children’s literature today is less likely to feature all-white communities than it was in 1962, deeply entrenched residential segregation remains a reality in America. Where I live is different, though. I’m raising my kids in the diverse community where my parents raised me.

I wonder if this diverse environment has something to do with why my daughter didn’t note the racial difference between the characters in the book and the characters in the movie. In our community, more people look like Meg from the movie than Meg from the book.

But, of course, Meg isn’t necessarily white in the minds of the children meeting her for the first time on paper. I remember being able to deviate from the hints about race in the text to imagine characters that better reflected my mixed-race, Sri Lankan-American family and my diverse friends. I’m sure it was easier to overcome the occasional reference to “blond hair” and “creamy skin” because the cover of my childhood copy featured the otherworldly Mrs. Whatsit instead of white people.

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*My twins loved A Wrinkle in Time enough to reference it a few times in Anusha of Prospect Corner, our multicultural adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. A Wrinkle in Time and its sequel, A Wind in the Door, are among Anusha’s favorite books.

 

11 comments

  1. When I was growing up, my favorite books were the Sweet Valley Twins (all years and series). I was HYPER aware of the fact that they were blond, had “aquamarine eyes,” “sun-kissed skin, ” and 5’6″. It was stated at the beginning of every book. In grad school, I took a class on children’s lit, and I honestly don’t remember most characters being described (though there was one book for which we couldn’t agree on the girl’s race).

  2. I really enjoyed the diversity of the cast of the film, but that’s about where I stopped (after the visuals of course). It just didn’t work as well for me.

  3. We really love the book around here too! Did you read it yourself or listen to the audiobook? I have read it aloud and played the audiobook and both went over well. None of us have seen the movie yet… I appreciate the more diverse cast but we’ve heard they make a lot of other changes to the book, which always makes me leery.

    1. I read the first two Time Quintet books to my twins a few years ago, but my youngest has only listened to the audiobooks so far. My daughter noted quite a few differences between the book and the movie. The only two differences that bothered her were Aunt Beast’s absence and Calvin’s hair.

  4. This is great. I love that you connect how the cover can tell us what the characters are supposed to look like which can get in the way of imagining them the way we want or–more importantly–forces us to accept default whiteness.

    1. Thanks! What’s interesting to me is seeing how my kids, who often read ebooks, picture characters when they don’t get a constant reminder of what those characters look like from covers.

  5. I barely remember reading the book it was so long ago, but we absolutely loved the movie. Was lovely to go in with so few preconceptions and just enjoy every bit of it. Truly an uplifting and embracing movie for modern times and families. And now want to reread the book!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. My daughter loved it too. She went with her Dad, so I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve re-read the book a couple of times. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Audio books are perfect for car trips and A wrinkle in time is mesmerising for kids. I can’t remember how I pictured Meg and her family but I remember Calvin’s red hair and freckles.

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