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.

40 thoughts on “Natalie Babbitt: Tuck Everlasting (1975) Exploring Books for Children and Young Adults

  1. As a child I missed this one. As you point out it sounds as if it tackles some big ideas.

    I actually find that I often like films better then books. I think that i am more forgiving of movies.

    • I don’t normally prefer the movie but in this case it was more rounded and there was no talking down.
      I hate it when the tone is patronizing and I found that was the case here.

    • I think that’s about the age this was written for.
      I never know what middle grade etc means. I guess abook has to be written for older children for me to appreciate it but a boy the same age of Winnie, that should work well.

  2. P.S. Right now, my assignment from my nephew (who has loaned me the book for the purpose) is to read #3 “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “The Wide Window,” because he says with all my worrying and fussing and telling him what to do that I remind him of Aunt Josephine in that book. I never thought I’d see the day when my younger relatives would decide I resembled a character from literature!

    • I don’t know that series but ebing compared to a literary character has some charm.
      I’ve been compared to Peter Høeg’s character Miss Smilla but I think the person had the movie in mind, not the book.

  3. Sounds interesting! Tho I admit I am more intrigued with the movie rather than the book. I haven’t read children book in ages, apart from fairy tale, I don’t know if I still want to read such book.

    Ah…for your next read, I’d say Coraline, as I said in my review it’s the best western animation I have ever seen.

    • I think it depends on the voice whether a children’s book worls for me or not and whether it written for older children.
      It’s very possible Coraline will be the next one. After that I can finally watch the movie.

  4. Nice review, Caroline! I liked what you said about children’s literature boldly exploring the big themes and not shying away from them. I like the theme of this book. Interesting to know that it has been made into a movie. I like Sissy Spacek very much. I will look for the DVD. Your next two choices look quite interesting. Hope you are enjoying exploring children’s literature. Thanks for this reviiew.

    • Death is a central theme in a lot of children’s literature and it’s done well mostly.
      I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the movie before as the cast is great. I hope you will like the movie. I found it took the best from the book and added some new elements.
      I’ve heard a lot of good things about Skellig and Coraline but I don’t think I’ll read another children’s book just yet.

    • Death seems a central theme in a lot of children’s literature and it’s done well mostly.
      I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the movie before as the cast is great. I hope you will like the movie. I found it took the best from the book and added some new elements.
      I’ve heard a lot of good things about Skellig and Coraline but I don’t think I’ll read another children’s book just yet.

    • Death seems a central theme in a lot of children’s literature and it’s done well mostly.
      I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the movie before as the cast is great. I hope you will like the movie. I found it took the best from the book and added some new elements.
      I’ve heard a lot of good things about Skellig and Coraline but I don’t think I’ll read another children’s book just yet.

      • Oh goodness, let’s see what I can recall. Where the Red Fern Grows, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, Bridge over Terabithia, The Hobbit, Judy Bloom novels … I’m running out of names. It would be fun if I still had a listing of all the books I’ve purchased or checked out from day one.

        • That’s a great list though. I came across a few of them when I decided to do this project. I think Bridge over Terabithia has been criticised for the sad ending.
          I didn’t really read a lot of children’s books. My parents’ were odd that way, they gave me books for gown ups but I read Pinoccio, Heid and Uncle Tom’s cabin and the books by German author Otttfried Preussler.

          • Terabithia is sad. I still remember crying about that one. And so are Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows. I think I also read a lot of books by Beverly Cleary. I don’t remember my parents reading to me and I can’t recall any younger books that we had in the house. If I think of more I’ll let you know.

            • My mother read to me a few books when I was very little.
              Oh no, Charlotte’s Web is sad too? And it’s always because an animal dies, right? That could make me cry even now. I had a German children’s book about a Bedouin girl and her camel and the camel dies at the end.
              It took me weeks to recover.

              • I have a hard time watching Disney movies since some animal always seems to die. I won’t watch War Horse since I hate seeing animals in distress. I think there’s a monument near Marble Arch for the animals that served in war. I’ve only seen it from a bus so I’m not sure which war.

                • War Horse was not easy to watch despite the happy ending. You don’t see that much but you know what the horses went through. It’s awful. Something that always gets to me is the bombings of Dresden and when they hit the zoo.
                  One of the first movies I saw as a child was Bambi and it made me cry a lot.

                  • Bambi did a number on me as well. And the older I get, the more sentimental I get. We watched the miniseries Lonesome Dove this weekend. But I won’t watch the last part since I know I’ll cry. Not sure if you’ve read many westerns, but I do recommend Lonesome Dove. McMurtry won the Pulitzer for it. But I will warn you, it’s sad.

                    • I’m planning on writing a post about genres I never read and western is one of them. There is no reason, I just never think of reading it. I’ll keep Lonesome Dove in mind. But usually I’m not much better with sad books than movies.

                    • I haven’t read many westerns so this would be my only suggestion. have you seen the movie The Last Picture show–McMurtry wrote that as well.

  5. What a sterling cast in the movie. I thought I’d seen every Sissy Spacek film.
    My favorite childhood books were Heidi and The Secret Garden. I never re-read books, but would be willing to make an exception for those two. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about Where the Red Fern Grows.

    Smilla is a good character to resemble, Caroline. :)

  6. This sounds like a great project–one to take your time with as there are so many good books to explore. I have been familiar with this title for a very long time but I never realized what it was about or had considered reading it–may have to look for the movie, though. I missed reading so many classic children’s books growing up I always think I will try and read a few each year. This year I will defiinitely read Anne of Green Gables and not sure what else. You are right that YA lit often deals in very serious themes and often so beautifully. I’m looking forward to hearing about the other books you choose to read.

    • At first i wanted to a month of reading only children’s books, especially since the Lit and War title is a YA novel too but then I thought it’s better to make it a “proper” project and take my time.
      Like you I have missed out on so many children’s classics. I should read Anne of Green Gables too.
      I really like the themes os so many children’s books. The Wind in the Willow’s is a favourite of mine.
      The movie is well worth watching it’s so lovely. It has a fairy tale quality but without a sugary ending.

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