by Jim Denney
In September 1962, my third-grade class filed into the school library in search of adventure. I found mine right away—a book displayed on the “new arrivals” shelf. It had a blue cover with three children silhouetted against radiating concentric circles.
I grabbed the book and printed my name in the very first line on the pocket card, which meant that I was the first student at John C. Fremont Elementary School to check out A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It was L’Engle’s first published novel, and it would go on to win many awards, including the prestigious Newbery Medal.
That book had a huge impact on me. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that A Wrinkle in Time helped set the course of my life. I’m a writer today in large part because that novel captured my imagination when I was a boy. I have re-read it many times as an adult.
Every time I read it, I get caught up in the adventure of good versus evil, of children on a quest to save their father, who was lost in time and space. I am always fascinated by those mysterious angelic beings named Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which—and the deadly entity known only as IT.
Re-reading the novel as an adult, I’ve been impressed to see how L’Engle seamlessly wove together concepts from quantum physics and the Christian faith. A Wrinkle in Time contains allusions to Isaiah, Psalms, and the New Testament. Mrs Who quotes from 1 Corinthians: “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
The inspiring notion that God is pleased to use foolish, weak creatures like ourselves as His instruments to topple the mighty and powerful also runs through the fantasy of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. And this theme is central to my own Timebenders science-fantasy series for young readers.
My own childhood experience tells me that children internalize lessons from inspiring fiction. Kids identify with their storybook heroes. While immersed in the tale, they become the heroes, experiencing the story (and learning its lessons) at a deep emotional and spiritual level. They learn to stretch their faith, test their courage, and deepen their love and empathy for others.
The poet Emily Dickinson understood the impact children’s literature has on the soul of a child. In her poem “1593,” she called this effect a “bequest of wings” that enables young spirits to soar:
He ate and drank the precious Words—
His Spirit grew robust—
He knew no more than that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was Dust—
He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book— What Liberty
A loosened Spirit brings!
[Emily Dickinson, “1593,” in Helen Vendler, editor, Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 498.]
Whenever you read to a child, you bequeath the gift of wings. When you give a child a book to read, you enable your child to soar.
Note: Battle Before Time, the first book in my newly revised and updated Timebenders series for young readers, will be released later this week. When links are available for the paperback and ebook editions, I will post them here. Thanks! —J.D.