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Virginia Haviland’s reviews of The Search for Delicious and Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

babbitt_search-for-deliciousNatalie Babbitt, Author-Illustrator     The Search for Delicious     g
167 pp.    Farrar    $3.95

Another allegorical story points up the foolishness of a petty argument that leads to a full-scale conflict. The folly begins at court with such a heated disagreement over a definition for “delicious” that DeCree, lexicographer and Prime Minister, sends his assistant, twelve-year-old Gaylen, to take a poll throughout the kingdom. The seemingly simple mission soon develops into a dangerous quest in both mythological and political realms; for the saving of the kingdom rests at length with the mermaid Ardis, whose grief is ended by Gaylen in return for her thwarting of a plot against the king. As Gaylen moves among the mountains, trees, and streams in the land of faerie, he meets a nine-hundred-year-old woldweller (one of the tree-dwellers) and a group of miner-dwarfs; he also encounters Canto, a minstrel, who gives him the key that would later seal a bargain with Ardis. The writing is distinguished by an immediate clarity and true poetry — with the metaphoric description, appropriate names for characters (Hemlock, the arch-villian brother of the queen; Whimsey Mildew, the housewife), and interpolated songs in the manner of some of the great fantasies. Touches of spoofing fun and the homelinesses of everyday existence lighten the succession of dramatic incidents. A wholly delightful story. VIRGINIA HAVILAND

From the August 1969 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

tuckeverlastingNatalie Babbitt     Tuck Everlasting     g
139 pp.     Farrar     1975     $5.95

“The first week of August hands at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.” Rarely does one find a book with such distinctive prose. Flawless in both style and structure, it is rich in imagery and punctuated with light fillips of humor. The author manipulates her plot deftly, dealing with six main characters brought together because of a spring whose waters can bestow everlasting life. Having discovered the spring, the entire Tuck family — each of whom would now be over a hundred — always arouses suspicion because they never age and are therefore constantly forced to move. Winnie, an overprotected ten-year-old who lives nearby, meets “young” Jesse Tuck at the spring one day. He argues hard to dissuade her from drinking, and is relieved when his mother arrives to swoop her up on her horse. As the Tucks explain why she must not drink the water, a lurking stranger overhears their secret; he goes to Winnie’s parents and offers to rescue the child in exchange for the wood and its magical spring which they own. In the climactic sequences, Mae Tuck kills the stranger and with the help of Winnie escapes the gallows. Underlying the drama is the dilemma of the age-old desire for perpetual youth. Although Winnie is always at the center of the story, each member of the Tuck family has a strong personality. Jesse’s devotion is expressed in his gift to Winnie — a bottle of the magic water to be kept until she grows older when they might become companions forever. In the poignant epilogue the author reveals that Winnie, in the end, chooses mortality. VIRGINIA HAVILAND

From the February 1976 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

For more, click the tag Natalie Babbitt.

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