I have been following the Thalia Kids’ Book Club events at Symphony Space for years. For some reason, when things have been appealing, our schedules haven’t allowed us to attend. Earlier this week, I noticed that there would be a 40th anniversary celebration of Tuck Everlasting with Natalie Babbitt on Sunday and amazingly, we had nothing on our calendars. I immediately bought tickets and began counting down the days.
Tuck Everlasting was the first book that I remember loving. I switched schools in fifth grade and I truly realized that I was going to love Lincoln School when Mrs. Capo began reading aloud from Tuck Everlasting. I had always adored reading but this was the first book that really got me thinking.
Fast forward a long time till last year when I gave Caroline an old copy of Tuck. She had so many questions that each night, after she went to sleep, I read ahead a few chapters so that we could discuss the chapters. While Caroline has loved reading since the time she was born, I believe that Tuck was the first book to get her thinking too.
We arrived at Symphony Space with time to spare and I felt lucky, as I so often do, to live so close to New York City and all the opportunities that we find there. The event began with a gorgeous reading of Winnie meeting Jessie Tuck. And then, we had the chance to listen to the incredibly entertaining Gregory McGuire (author of Wicked, The Egg and the Spoon and so much more) interview Natalie Babbitt. In fact, the program described it as a conversation and it was so much more that than an interview. I felt like I was eavesdropping on a chat between two friends.
Their conversation began with discussions of the stories that Babbitt loved as a child. She adored Greek myths and fairy tales but her determined mother read to her from all genres in order to expose to all the great books. Babbitt says that while her mother was reading her ‘great’ literature, some of it was quite boring so when she began writing for children she vowed that her stories would not be dull.
Babbitt’s mother was an artist. In fourth grade, Babbitt decided that she too would draw and she held on to this dream through college. In fact she has illustrated many children’s book and drew the cover art for the original editions of Tuck Everlasting. When asked who she is writing for when she writes for children, she now says that she is writing for her childhood self.
Tuck, though, was written for her daughter, who was in the audience yesterday. At the age of 5, she awoke from a nightmare, terrified of dying. As Babbitt talked to her about death being a part of life and not something to be feared, the story of Tuck Everlasting began. Interestingly, we also learned that the Tuck’s cabin and lake was based on the Babbitt’s summer home where they lived for many summers. In fact, Sam Babbitt, Natalie’s husband, who read part of the book at the end of the event, had read early editions of Tuck Everlasting to their daughters while summering at the very cabin.
While the entire conversation was fascinating, I was especially drawn to what Babbitt had to say about childhood. She said that it angered her how long it takes for children to become real people in the eyes of everyone else. She continued by saying that schools and adults treat children as if they don’t really matter until they turn eighteen.
As we waited in line to have our books signed, it became clear that Babbitt practiced what she preached. We waited in line for ages as she spoke for long periods of time to each of the children that approached her. She looked them in the eyes and asked and answered questions. Unfortunately, by the time we reached her, her 82 years showed for the first time and she was clearly tired. She was not chatty so we said hello and thank you and moved forward but it was indeed an honor to have met her.