Natalie Babbitt knew by the time she was in fourth grade that she wanted to be an illustrator. It was the blend of beauty and humor in John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice in Wonderland that confirmed her desire to be an illustrator of stories for children. What she didn't know is that her quest to become an illustrator would also make her a writer. She went to art school, but didn’t illustrate her first book until she collaborated with her husband many years later. As a busy academic, he did not have time to write further books, so Babbitt tried her hand at writing. After several short picture books in verse, her first novel, The Search for Delicious, confirmed she also had a gift for storytelling. Now the award-winning author of over 15 books for young readers --- including the contemporary classic Tuck Everlasting --- has a new book out called The Moon Over High Street.
Joe Casimir is an orphan living with his grandmother. Visiting his aunt one summer after his grandmother breaks her hip in a fall, Joe catches the attention of local millionaire Mr. Boulderwall. Taking a shine to the boy and looking for an heir to his factory, Mr. Boulderwall offers to adopt Joe and finance his education. But this gift comes with a heavy price. Joe will never have to worry about money again, but accepting Mr. Boulderwall’s offer means living apart from his loving relatives, and a future running Mr. Boulderwall’s factory. What about his dreams of becoming an astronomer and learning more about the moon? The Moon Over High Street tackles the difficult topic of money in a gentle fable about the value of things.
In a Publishers Weekly interview about The Moon Over High Street, Babbitt says she’s been wanting to write about money for a long time. Growing up during the Great Depression meant that money --- and the value of things --- was always at the forefront of her childhood. “I had a lot of experiences regarding that subject that were both good and bad,” she says. “I had a wonderful mother who wanted my sister and me to have everything, even though money was a very prominent thing we didn’t have. But we had a very happy childhood --- pretty much ideal, in fact. This is the only one of my books that has no fantasy at all in it. It is much closer to my own feelings about my life. Even though Joe has lost his parents, he has a happy childhood and a very good relationship with his grandmother.”
Babbitt has often used fantasy as a way to address difficult --- if not unanswerable --- questions. Search for Delicious is about a kingdom torn apart by the definition of the word “delicious” and a boy on a quest to solve the problem and avert a civil war. Her best known work, Tuck Everlasting, tackles the problem of immortality when Winnie Foster encounters a family whose property contains a spring that grants eternal life…and all the problems that come with it. Her other books, which include Goody Hall, Kneeknock Rise, and The Eyes of the Amaryllis, all seek to solve mysteries that plague the characters in the novels.
When asked at the Macmillan publisher’s website what inspires her stories, Babbitt answers, “I mostly write about all the unanswered questions I still have from when I was in elementary school” and hopes that these questions are what readers remember most about her books. At the Scholastic website, she states, “I write for children because I am interested in fantasy and the possibilities for experience of all kinds before the time of compromise. I believe that children are far more perceptive and wise than American books give them credit for being.”
What is your favorite title by Natalie Babbitt? What children's books do you love that address questions without any answers?
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