A Wrinkle in Time: Adolescence at Tesser Speed

L'Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962.

"'A delinquent, that's what I am,' she thought grimly. 'That's what they'll be saying next.
Not Mother. But Them. Everybody Else. I wish Father...'"
A Wrinkle in Time is a young adult novel written by Madeleine L'Engle in 1962. It is the story of Meg, a teenage girl who is struggling to fit in. She is the typical ugly duckling that every teenager feels they are at one point in time. She doesn't fit in, struggles with what she calls her "moroness," and because she is willing to stick up for her family and herself, she is considered to be a troubled child. She says of herself, "I hate being an oddball...I try to pretend I am like everybody else, but it isn't any help." To which her mother responds, "You're much too straightforward to be able to pretend to be what you aren't." It is exactly this straightforward attitude she has that makes her appear obstinate to her superiors. Her principal even asks her, "Do you enjoy being the most belligerent, uncooperative student in school?". On top of not fitting in at school, she never feels that she can live up to the beauty of her mother, the athleticism of her twin brothers, or the genius of her little brother at home. To add to her struggles, they have not heard from their father in over a year, he just disappeared and left all of his belongings behind, as well as leaving Meg distraught and helpless. Her little brother Charles Wallace understands this the best, and he tries to make it easier. They end up going on an adventure with three shape-shifting beings named Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit. An upperclassman named Calvin O'Keefe gets dragged along through space and time itself on a crazy adventure to save the father of Meg and Charles Wallace. They meet many strange beasts and experience unusual situations throughout their travel of the universe. The main obstacle that they run into is a black cloud called "the darkness" that is covering different planets, including earth. When meg comes into contact with it she says that she was, "filled with a new and strange kind of darkness that was a completely tangible thing, a thing that wanted to eat and digest her like some enormous malignant beast of prey." This cloud is a physical representation and personification of evil. It is up to the children, with the help of the elders, to learn about the tesseract, a method of traveling through space, and how it can help them with their problems as well as the problems of the universe. Even in the most unusual circumstances that the characters are faced with, the lessons that are learned are among the most universal.

"She knew! Love. That was what she had that IT did not have."

This book is written in a language that engages the reader and drags them into the story and into a new world full of imagination. L'Engle leaves the key details out of the story, leaving it up to the reader to use his or her imagination to experience the world she has created, as well as the wondrous creatures that live there. The readers will be able to construct their own ideas of the characters, and even change those characters into their own images. Readers are able to connect right away to Meg, because every person has gone through the awkward stages of growing up. L'Engle takes readers on an adventure that is so fantastical, that they never want the book to end. Yet, while this story of traveling in the 4th dimension may seem inaccessible to children, the unabashedly real characters will seem to be just as real as their friends and classmates.

Recommendations for Teachers

According to studies by Jeffrey Wilhelm, adolescents do not pick what they want to read based on literary content, complexities, or richness. They choose books based on interest. For a classroom in middle school, this book seems to be very appropriate because it has been proven to be a novel that many students love. It is a fairly quick read, which may be helpful in a classroom where time is a factor, and has a number of unique and memorable characters. The protagonist, Meg, and her friend Calvin both struggle with identity. This is a huge topic in middle school, because it is one of the most crucial periods in a child's life, where they are trying to decide who they are going to be and what they want to represent. What makes it even easier to relate to for a variety of students is that they both embody the characteristics of different cliques in school. Meg is an outsider in school and is misunderstood and confrontational, while Calvin is popular and excels in sports. The one thing that they both have in common with each other, and probably the reader, is that their peers don't really know who they are inside, but have only superficial knowledge about their perceived personalities. In a middle school setting, using this book will be a hit with many different students, because many of them are trying to form their own identities that will shape the rest of their lives.
This book also brings up the theme of morality and trust. The "black thing" is able to trick people into doing things that they themselves would never do, and question who they should put their trust in. Students can relate to this because of the new situations they are facing entering into their teenage years. In the end of the story, it is love that breaks Charles Wallace free from the evil being and reinforces the morality theme and could bring about a teachable moment with great philosophical discussion. While a teacher may not try to force their own personal code of morals or beliefs on their students, it still has the potential of opening the door for civil conversation on the topic.

For a teacher at the middle school level, this book not only reinforces the ideas discussed above, but it is also a teaching aid on how to discover themes within a story. The first priority is to get the students reading and enjoying the act of reading, but after that is achieved (which it surely will be with this book), the teacher's second priority should be to identify what the general themes are and why the book was written. Lessons can be produced to help students identify themes like the existence of good vs. evil in a story, the importance of identity, and issue of morality by looking at the characters, their thoughts and actions, and challenges they overcome. Finally, one of the most important topics that should be discussed is why Meg, Calvin, and the twins act the way they do at school compared the way they act at home. This can lead into a rich conversations about why people act and treat others the way they do, acceptance of people that are different from what is considered "normal", and the impact of the individual.

About Madeleine L'Engle
Madeleine was born on November 29th, 1918, and grew up in New York City. She took great interest in avoiding school work and instead wrote stories, poems, and journals for her own enjoyment. When she was 12 she moved to the French Alps with her parents to an English boarding school where she continued to write. She did well in high school back in the United States in South Carolina and after high school went to Smith College to study English. There she studied and enjoyed reading classic literature which helped aid her in her own creative writing.

After graduating with honors in 1941, she moved into a Greenwich Village apartment in New York City and worked at a theater, where a flexible schedule gave her more time to write. During these years she published her first two novels, A Small Rain published in 1945 and Ilsa published in 1946. After writing these two novels she met her future husband, Hugh Franklin, as an understudy in Anton Chekov's, The Cherry Orchard.

After having her first child, she kept writing and moved to Connecticut where it was easier for her to raise a family. She lived in a quaint dairy farm village, enjoying the peace and quite of the country. Her family eventually moved back into the city with three children so her husband could continue his acting career. During this time she wrote two books which were later published, A Wrinkle in Time and Meet the Austins.

Years latter she associated herself with the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine as a librarian and had an office there for more than thirty years. Even after her husband's death in 1986 she continued to write, and in her career she has produced 60 novels. Her most famous work is A Wrinkle in Time and the other books in the time trilogy. She earned Newbery Medal in 1963 for A Wrinkle in Time, and also the American Book Award for A Swiftly Tilting Planet in 1980.

Despite her enormous success as a young adult writer, L'Engle has been a lightning rod for controversy. She is a devout Christian which is very apparent in many of her writings, including A Wrinkle in Time. She has used familiar bible verses and Christian imagery and themes in her novels, which sometimes alienates and upsets some readers. At the same time, she has come under fire from the fundamental Christian community that object to some of her content. For example, in A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs Whatsit says that she is "Exactly 2,379,152,497 years, 8 months, and 3 days" old. This directly contradicts the belief of many facets of Christianity that believe the Earth is only thousands of years old, which has led to many people banning and criticizing her works. Even though she has had objections from many different groups of people about the material in her novels, she continues to be relevant and inspire wonder in new generations.

Most notable works by L'Engle
Time Quartet

  • A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
  • A Wind in the Door (1973)
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978)
  • Many Waters (1986)

  • The Arm of the Starfish (1965)
  • A Winter's Love (1957)
  • The Love Letters (1966)
  • Dragons in the Waters (1976)
  • A House Like a Lotus (1984)
  • An Acceptable Time (1989)

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

A video explaining the fourth dimension as it relates to A Wrinkle in Time

NPR interview with Madeleine L'Engle

Additional Resources:
Here are some helpful links that will help you teach and better understand the book and the author
  • Biography: Madeleine L'Engle - Brief biography to get understand the history and important events in the author's life.
  • Madeleine L'Engle Teaching Unit - This website gives many questions, writing prompts, and projects that could go along with A Wrinkle in Time. Some of the materials might be for a little bit younger students, but many of the resources are helpful.
  • Author's Website - This website is a good resource for multimedia pertaining to Madeleine L'Engle, offers a full bibliography, and has updated news on everything pertaining to the author.
  • Controversy Behind A Wrinkle In Time - A look at why A Wrinkle in Time was considered so controversial in its day, as well as other personal details regarding Madeleine L'Engle's life.
  • Book Review - A short book review with other comments by individual readers.
  • Movie Preview - In 2003, A Wrinkle in Time was made into a movie for the first time. This is the preview for that movie.
  • Comprehensive Study Guide - This website has everything about A Wrinkle in Time. It has summaries of the chapters, themes, quotes, topics for discussion, character descriptions, related titles, and much more.
  • The Fourth Dimension - This website gives an explanation of the 4th dimension, which plays a large role in the mode of travel used in A Wrinkle in Time.
  • Interview with Madeleine L'Engle - Thorough interview spanning a wide variety of topics from art to controversy and critics.

*Made by Zach Harney, Jared Maynard, Kelly Pavlovic, Laura Zeichman, Kelly Butcher,
and Cristina Walcott