Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So what do we think? Tuck Everlasting

 So what do we think? Tuck Everlasting

Babbitt, Natalie. (1975) Tuck Everlasting. Thorndike Press/Square Fish, Scholastic Inc. ISBN 10: 0312369816; reviewed ISBN 0-7862-5181-6. Publisher reading level grades 5-6. Litland.com age recommendation 10-14. See full review at http://www.litland.com/

Publisher description: Time drags by for Winnie Foster, an eleven-year-old girl who lives in a house bordering the woods owned by her family. Winnie spends her summer days under the watchful eye of her grandmother. Most of the time it's too hot to be out in the sun, and when Winnie does actually venture outside, she never goes beyond the fence of the yard. But one morning she sneaks away into the woods and there she sees a young man drinking from a mysterious spring of water he uncovers at the base of tree. The young man, Jesse Tuck, discovers Winnie watching him. So he kidnaps her.

Our thoughts:

This is a fabulous story. Mae and Angus Tuck, along with sons Miles and Jesse, have a problem; they accidentally became immortal. But they don’t want to be. Angus Tuck dreams of what it is like to go to Heaven, and teaches Winnie about the wheel of life which his family has “stepped off”. While at first the Tucks may seem to be the ‘bad guys” as they kidnap Winnie, we see the truly bad person is the man in the yellow jacket who manipulates people and information to paint a false picture of the situation. Then using this to his advantage, he coerces the Fosters into making a decisions to give up part of their local legacy. The author goes beyond just the unjust act itself (manipulation of the Fosters) to letting us know its true consequences: chipping away at the family heritage.

There is a scene near the end where Mae Tuck shoots the man in the yellow jacket. Rather than unnecessary detail of the shot’s physical impact, Babbitt stays focused on the meaning and consequences of the action itself. In doing so, she strengthens the moment rather than depleting it.

Her writing style is rich with nary a word wasted. The reader is left feeling love and care for all of the earth’s creatures, compassion for the Tucks, and respect for others who don’t understand but are well meaning. We can picture in our minds the toad, the heat wave, early morning fishing, and the heaving of the galloping horse.

This is also a story of a girl coming of age in 1880. A time in history when children were still allowed to be children and, yet, once a teen they take on adult responsibilities quickly. For the first time, Winnie has her own life experiences that are not shared by her family, and so she is learning how to deal with that feeling of loving and hating independence at the same time; having a secret you can’t share with those who love you even though it isn’t a bad secret; having to use adult wisdom at a young age. It is an interesting way to look at childhood, that of having shared experiences contrasted with those that a person experiences independent from their family, and the reader can feel the confused emotions thanks to the author’s excellent work. When with the Tucks, Winnie enjoyed having them as her own friends that she didn’t share with her family. Now that they needed help, it was an uncertain state of mind in which to be.

All of this is held within the context of the Tuck’s view of themselves. Although voiced by son Miles, it is clear the entire family sees that they should make a difference in the world. The domino and ripple effects of the actions by one single person are known and felt. Winnie chooses to make a difference in the world. She realizes she must make small mistakes to accomplish the larger mission of protecting the world from the curse held in the spring’s water. As in the old poem quoted in the book:

“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.”

There are other kinds of prisons in life, and the Tucks were living in one until the end of time.  

This is an excellent book for families to read together. It is appropriate for all ages, although of most interest to readers in 5th-8th grades. Choosing this story for your family reading hour or book club will give you much to talk through, and grow together as a family. It would also be an excellent teacher choice for in-class reading. In either the home or school settings, this book would be useful in an integrated curriculum using literature to learn about American history in the 19th century. Talking about books such as Tuck Everlasting is an important part of understanding and growing in our own value system, while also giving concrete examples for good behaviour to emulate. We cannot say enough about this great book!

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