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Volunteer Andrea celebrates Madeleine L’Engle and the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time at the National Book Festival.

Hope Larson illustrated a full-length graphic novel about A Wrinkle in Time. “Two pages of pictures for every one in the book,” she said. A long-time contributor to Parenting magazine, Leonard Marcus wrote Listening for Madeleine, a portrait of the author as a storyteller, friend, teacher and questioner. Anita Silvey has devoted 40 years of her life to promoting books for young people and families. The Library of Congress brought all three authors together to celebrate Madeleine L’Engle and A Wrinkle in Time at the National Book Festival.

Silvey first read A Wrinkle in Time because her sister, who never read books, loved the novel. Marcus first read the book as an adult exploring American history’s predisposition to dislike fantasy. He wanted to understand how Madeleine L’Engle was one of the first authors to break down that wall. Later, after he became a fan of the work and its author, he spent time interviewing L’Engle who had trained as an actress and had a face that made you want to open up to her.

L’Engle’s contradictions were discussed. Everyone agreed that she was best known as a storyteller. L’Engle told stories, not all of them true, about real people in her life. Marcus said that she was more trusting of books than of people, and that L’Engle was not entirely comfortable with that situation.

L’Engle was an outsider even as a child, a ninety-three-year-old cousin told Marcus in Listening for Madeleine. That sense of being an outsider defines Meg Murry, the central character in A Wrinkle in Time. Author Hope Larson said that such a main character was exactly what drew her to the story. “I don’t think you see a lot of angry girl characters, and I am an angry girl…It was really easy for me to relate to her.” Larson was drawn to Meg Murry who, even as an angry girl “can still save the universe.” Silvey agreed that the vast appeal of A Wrinkle in Time is due, in part, to the reinforcement of the idea that no matter who you are, you “can affect the future of the universe. You can make a difference.”

As is customary during each National Book Festival segment, the authors took questions. A discussion about the religiosity or lack thereof in A Wrinkle in Time was inevitable. Marcus provided historical perspective. When L’Engle first shopped around the manuscript, she was rejected numerous times. In mid-1960’s, publishers were concerned with such a strong religious sub-text and the direction it went in. L’Engle had equated Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein with Jesus.

At last, Farrar, Straus & Giroux accepted the manuscript for publication with the idea that the run would be under 2000 copies, most of which would be bought by L’Engle’s mother. The audience for A Wrinkle in Time was different from what the publisher had expected, and the book won a Newbery Medal and numerous other awards.

By the 1980’s, L’Engle’s work was being challenged as not religious enough. “She got it from both sides,” Marcus said. L’Engle became a fervent supporter of First Amendment rights. She traveled extensively with Judy Blume to speak about the rights of authors and all others to freedom of speech. L’Engle never backed down in defense of that right or her books.

The Library of Congress’ National Book Festival annually celebrates the power of the written word with a two-day festival of learning, listening and reading on the National Mall. Mark your calendars now for the fourth weekend in September 2013. The Festival has something for every reading taste.

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