Becoming Madeleine


If you ever loved A Wrinkle in Timeor any of its book siblings, if you love a lonely-child-fulfills-her-dreams story, or if you’d like a peek at how granddaughters see a famous grandmother, I have just the book for you! Becoming Madeleine:a Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughterstakes a more intimate path than most biographies as Charlotte Jones Voikles and Lena Roy, with access to journals, letters, and early writings, give personal eyes to a literary icon. They cover her story up to the publication of A Wrinkle in Time.

I began reading with a packet of colored flags thinking I would mark a few treasures for a book review. I wound up with a veritable rainbow peeping out of the side of the book with hard choices to pick the most meaningful. The title comes from the first.

  • From A Circle of Quiet – “A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.
  • From a schoolgirl Madeleine – “And now I do swear a vow. I, Madeleine L’Engle Camp, do solemnly vow this day that I will climb that alpine path and write my name on the scroll of fame. 
  • Journal entry from her senior year at Ashley Hall: “I’m so desperately, desperately, glad I’m young. Growing old isn’t so bad if you can do it gracefully, but so many people do it at such a sloppy manner that [it] is almost repulsive.”
  • About her writing – “I made a discovery yesterday. . . When you write anything – a poem or a story – it’s yours only as long as only you know anything about it. As soon as someone reads it, it becomes partly theirs, too. They put things into it that you never thought of, and they don’t see many things that you thought plain.”
  • Observation from the granddaughter authors: “Madeleine had come to understand that failure might be making her more of a writer than success had done – because if you fail, and then keep going no matter what, that is what makes you a writer. 

I’ve loved L’Engle’s work for some time, though not in the normal manner. I like her writings for adults even more than her writing for children, and my favorite children’s book is not A Wrinkle in Timebut Many Watersfor the way she twines the biblical flood into her story. I’ve loved the picture at the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the American Library Association’s awards with her towering elegantly for her Newbery Medal win along with a few librarians and Ezra Jack Keats in his self-satisfied pose in his white dinner jacket for the Caldecott Medal. So, of course, I needed this book while Charlotte was available to sign at this year’s children’s book festival. Her signature echoed the title, “For Virginia, who is always becoming.” Along with her title, it brought me the question, “Like Madeleine, aren’t we all always “becoming”?