Natalie Babbitt: Tuck Everlasting (1975) Exploring Books for Children and Young Adults

Tuck Everlasting

Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks kidnap her and explain why living forever at one age is less than a blessing that it might seem.

Ever since I’ve read Tom’s Midnight Garden a few years ago, I felt like reading more children’s books. The beautiful novels of Meg Rosoff reminded me of this again and so I’ve decided to embark on a more systematic exploration of the genre. That doesn’t mean I’ll be reading only books for children but you might see the occasional review in the future.

Natalie Babbitt’s famous novel Tuck Everlasting was an ideal book to get re-aquainted with the genre.  The question that Tuck Everlasting explores is “What if you could choose to live forever?” This type of question is what I like about childrens’ books. They don’t shy away from exploring big themes: life, death, meaning of life, illness, friendship, moral choices.  Much more than many books for grownups do.

Winnie is a ten-year old girl who is growing up in a very strict family. Her mother and her grandmother monitor her every move, tell her constantly what is right and what is wrong. She is not allowed to leave the garden, let alone to go into the forest but one afternoon, tired of all those rules, she leaves and ventures into the forest. In the forest she meets a beautiful young man and sees him drink from a spring. Shocked that somebody finds out about the secret fountain of youth, he brings Winnie to his family and they kidnap her.

Unbeknownst to all of them, a man in a yellow suit is following them. He has been looking for the secret fountain since years and wants to make money with its water.

Winnie is confused and anxious at first but she likes the Tuck family. Unlike her own family they are warmhearted and affectionate. The father tells her how they discovered the spring and that whoever drinks from its water will live forever. While Winnie thinks at first that it would be wonderful not to die, she slowly comes to understand that it would mean she wouldn’t change anymore. She would stay the same young girl forever. One of the consequences if people found out and would drink from the water would be that soon there would be too many people in the world and they would all stagnate. She realizes that the beauty of life is linked to change and that she shouldn’t be afraid of death but of the unlived life.

It was interesting to watch the movie right after having finished the book and for once I must say, I preferred the film. I even liked it a great deal. It’s beautifully filmed and the cast was great. Alexis Bledel plays Winnie, William Hurt and Sissy Spacek are father and mother Tuck and the man in the yellow coat is played by Ben Kingsley. The Winnie in the film is a bit older, maybe 14 and a main part of the movie centers on the love story between her and the younger Tuck brother which is really lovely.

I liked the ideas, characters and the ending which was bitter-sweet but overall I found the tone of the book a bit annoying. I think it’s a great book for younger children but not exactly for older ones and grownups. The movie however is really charming. Ideal for a rainy Sunday afternoon. My DVD had an interview with the author in which she tells how she became a writer. She started to write together with her husband, or rather to illustrate his books. When he didn’t have enough time anymore, she had to do the writing as well and she became very famous. She has written and illustrated far over 15 books for children.

I’m not sure which will be my next children’s book. Maybe David Almond’s Skellig or Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.