Babbitt, Natalie (Zane Moore) 1932-
BABBITT, Natalie (Zane Moore) 1932-
PERSONAL: Born July 28, 1932, in Dayton, OH; daughter of Ralph Zane (a business administrator) and Genevieve (Converse) Moore; married Samuel Fisher Babbitt (vice president of Brown University), June 26, 1954; children: Christopher Converse, Thomas Collier II, Lucy Cullyford. Education: Smith College, B.A., 1954. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Needlework, piano, word puzzles.
ADDRESSES: Home—26 Benefit St., Apt. 4, Providence, RI 02904; and 63 Seaside Ave., Dennis, MA 02638. Office—81 Benefit St., Providence, RI 02904.
CAREER: Children's book writer and illustrator.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, PEN (American Center).
AWARDS, HONORS: Best Book of 1969 for Children Ages Nine to Twelve citation, New York Times, for The Search for Delicious; American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book citation, 1970, Newbery Honor Book citation, 1971, and Horn Book Honor citation, all for Kneeknock Rise; Book World Children's Spring Book Festival Honor Book citation, 1971, Children's Book Council Showcase title, 1972, and School Library Journal Honor List citation, all for Goody Hall; ALA Notable Book citation, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year citation, Horn Book Honor List citation, and National Book Award nomination, all 1974, all for The Devil's Storybook;ALA Notable Book citation, Horn Book Honor List citation, and Christopher Award for juvenile fiction, all 1976, and International Reading Association choices list citation, U.S. Honor Book citation, and Congress of the International Board on Books for Young People citation, all 1978, all for Tuck Everlasting; ALA Notable Book citation, 1977, for The Eyes of the Amaryllis; George C. Stone Center for Children's Books award, 1979; Hans Christian Andersen Medal nomination, 1981; Best Books of 1982 citation, New York Times, for Herbert Rowbarge; Children's Literature Festival Award, Keene State College, 1993, for body of work; Blue Ribbon Book, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, 1998, ALA Notable Book citation, 1999, and Audie Award, 2001, all for Ouch!
Dick Foote and the Shark, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1967.
Phoebe's Revolt, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1968.
The Search for Delicious, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969.
Kneeknock Rise, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1970.
The Something, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1970.
Goody Hall, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1971.
The Devil's Story Book, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1974.
Tuck Everlasting, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1975.
The Eyes of the Amaryllis, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1977.
Herbert Rowbarge, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1982.
The Devil's Other Storybook, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1987.
Nellie: A Cat on Her Own, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1989.
Bub; or, The Very Best Thing, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
Elsie Times Eight, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2001.
Samuel Fisher Babbitt, The Forty-ninth Magician, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1966.
Valerie Worth, Small Poems, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1972.
Valerie Worth, More Small Poems, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.
Valerie Worth, Still More Small Poems, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1978.
Valerie Worth, Curlicues: The Fortunes of Two Pug Dogs, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1980, published as Imp and Biscuit: The Fortunes of Two Pugs, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1981.
Valerie Worth, Small Poems Again, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1985.
Valerie Worth, Other Small Poems Again, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1986.
Valerie Worth, All the Small Poems, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1987.
Valerie Worth, All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1994.
Valerie Worth, Peacock and Other Poems, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.
(Reteller) Ouch!: A Tale from Grimm, illustrated by Fred Marcellino, Harper Collins (New York, NY), 1998.
Contributor to Tikvah: Children's Book Creators Reflect on Human Rights, North-South Books, 2001. Contributor to periodicals, including Redbook, Publishers Weekly, Horn Book, New York Times Book Review, Cricket, School Library Journal, USA Today, and Washington Post Book World.
Babbitt's books have been translated into several languages, including Spanish.
ADAPTATIONS: Kneeknock Rise was made into a filmstrip, Miller-Brody Productions, 1975, and recorded on audiocassette, American School Publishers, 1987; The Search for Delicious was recorded on audio-cassette, Listening Library; Ouch! was recorded on audiocassette with teacher's guide, Live Oak Media, 2000. Tuck Everlasting was recorded on audiocassette, Audio Bookshelf, 1995, and made into a motion picture, Walt Disney Productions, 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: A man who has lost his identical twin, a family who has discovered the secret to eternal life, and a boy who must save his kingdom from evil are all subjects of novels written by Natalie Babbitt. Although primarily known as a children's book writer, she is also appreciated by older readers as a gifted storyteller. In entertaining narratives, her characters confront many basic human needs, including the need to be loved, the need for growth, change, and independence, the need to overcome fear, and the need to believe in something unexplainable. Her originality, sense of humor, and courage in focusing on challenging themes has also established her reputation as an important children's book author. Since its publication in 1975, her award-winning novel Tuck Everlasting has become a classic of children's literature and has also been adapted for film.
Babbitt's mother encouraged her two daughters' early interest in art and reading. Genevieve Moore read children's books aloud to her daughters, and they decided Natalie would become an artist and her sister a writer. Impressed with Brazilian artist Luis de Vargas's airbrushed figures of glamorous women popular during the second World War, the young artist imitated them using colored pencils. Discouraged by the difference between Vargas's finished drawings and her own, she was inspired by Sir John Tenniel's illustrations in Alice in Wonderland to work with pen and ink, which became her specialty.
Babbitt received brief training in a summer fashion-illustration course at the Cleveland School of Art. There she realized she enjoyed creative drawing more than drawing sketches of alligator bags. Later, in art classes at Smith College, where she competed with other artists for the first time in her life, she saw that success as an illustrator required more than creativity. In Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), Babbitt explained, "It was . . . the best lesson I learned in four years of college: to wit, you have to work hard to do good work. I had always done what came easily, and what came easily had always been good enough. It was not good enough at Smith, and would never be good enough again."
While at Smith, she met Samuel Babbitt, whom she married in 1954. She kept busy working and raising a family of three children while her husband, an aspiring writer, wrote a novel. The many hours alone with the novel did not suit him, however, and he went back to work as a college administrator. Her sister also produced a comic novel, for which Babbitt supplied illustrations, but abandoned the project when an editor asked for a substantial rewriting. "I learned three valuable things from observing what happened to my mother, sister and husband with their forays into the writer's world," she explained in her autobiographical essay. "You have to give writing your full attention, you have to like the revision process, and you have to like to be alone. But it was years before I put any of it to good use." After reading Betty Freidan's The Feminine Mystique, she realized that while her career as a homemaker had been successful, she had neglected to develop her other talents. After discussions with other women making similar discoveries, Babbitt decided to pursue a second career as an illustrator.
In 1966 The Forty-ninth Magician, written by Babbitt's husband, was published with her illustrations, thanks to the help of Michael di Capua at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Di Capua's encouragement helped Babbitt to continue producing children's books even after her husband became too busy to write the stories. She subsequently wrote Dick Foote and the Shark and Phoebe's Revolt, two picture books in which the stories are told in rhyming poetry.
Babbitt's ideas for books sometimes start with her meditations on a single image, such as a mountain and what can be found behind it, or on a single word. While thinking about the image or the word, she imagines characters whose personalities allow her to develop dialogue and plots for each story. The final result is often very different from her first idea. For example, Goody Hall started with Babbitt's thinking about the word "smuggler," yet it became a conversation with her mother. Her Grandmother Converse was a woman who supported herself and a daughter by dressmaking. In SAAS, Babbitt wrote, "I loved my Grandma Converse. . . . I doubt she ever had an ambitious thought in her life. But my mother not only wanted things, she knew what to want—what, that is, in terms of a Great American Dream of wealth, accomplishment, and social acceptability. . . . Like the heroes of Horatio Alger, my mother was never afraid of hard work, and many of the things she wanted were worth wanting. . . . She died when I was twenty-four and not yet mature enough to have figured it all out and discussed it with her. So I put it all into my story Goody Hall instead."
Goody Hall is a Gothic mystery set in the English countryside. A large Victorian house decorated with ornate wood carvings belongs to Midas Goody, whose disappearance spurs a young tutor to investigate. His encounters with an empty tomb, a hollow statue stuffed with precious stones, a gypsy, a rich youngster and his eccentric mother, and other surprises lead to a happy ending where confusing disguises are abandoned and the Goody family is reunited. Though the plot, like the old house with its hints of secret passageways and hidden closets, can frighten and bewilder, "in the end we feel the way the Goodys did about their house," Jean Fritz remarked in the New York Times Book Review.
In The Devil's Storybook, the title character is a trickster who is fooled as often as he tries to fool others. For example, he gives the power of speech to a goat who then annoys the devil with his constant complaining. In another story, the devil sneaks into the bedroom of a pretty lady who outwits him. Babbitt's devil is middle-aged and pot-bellied and often fails to reach his goal of causing trouble for others. In light of this, his continued meddling in others' lives makes the stories interesting to read, wrote Selma G. Lanes in Horn Book. The sequel, The Devil's Other Story Book, also pits the devil against animals and humans who leave the trickster in the dust. There is a moral lesson even in the stories where the devil gives "hell, literally, to those who deserve it," Laurel Graeber remarked in the New York Times Book Review, adding that "Babbitt's ethical lessons . . . rarely undermine her narrative gifts."
In Tuck Everlasting, a family who has discovered a secret spring that makes the drinkers immortal finds out that living forever without ever growing or changing is not very pleasant; this is explained to a ten-year-old girl, Winnie, who discovers the family by accident. Winnie falls in love with Tuck, but it is a romance the pair realize cannot last because Winnie is not immortal. Tuck's explanation of the role of mortality in the cycle of nature "is one of the most vivid and deeply felt passages in American children's literature," Ms. reviewer Michele Landsberg asserted. In an article for Children's Literature in Education, Kim Aippersbach, considering the novel's themes and symbolism, remarked: "A ten-year-old may not be able to formulate hypotheses concerning the nature of life and death and the importance of interrelationships within the human community, but she can sense the joy that is the other side of sadness that illuminates this story. And, in the end, that is all any of us can do."
When the Walt Disney motion picture version of Tuck Everlasting appeared in cinemas in 2001, it gave Babbitt's tale a wider audience and encouraged movie goers to read the book as well. Horn Book's Tim Wynne-Jones predicted that even in another hundred years Tuck Everlasting "will still have something essential to say about the human condition. And how well it does so, with flawless style, in words that are exact and simple and soothing and right."
In addition to illustrating the works of others, particularly verse collections by Valerie Worth, Babbitt has illustrated most of her own texts with her delicate watercolor paintings. Among her own picture books are the fairy tales Bub; or, The Very Best Thing and Elsie Times Eight. The former tells the story of a prince named Bub whose parents hold different ideas about child-rearing. After Bub's parents take a poll of the castle occupants and come no closer to a conclusion, the cook's daughter asks the toddler prince his opinion. He replies "Bub," a term of endearment. Finally all understand that "love is the very best thing." Reviewers gave the work qualified praise. Because Bub does not contain much action, Booklist's Ilene Cooper decided its appeal rests with the author's artwork, and Betsy Hearne, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, found the watercolor scenes photographically realistic yet sometimes "flat," with the prince's dog stealing the show. Also believing the "royal dog and toy dragon steal the show" was Hanna B. Zeiger, who nonetheless concluded in Horn Book that the author-illustrator's "elegant writing style and totally engaging characterizations in her illustrations combine to create a memorable picture book."
In her 2001 offering Elsie Times Eight, which Commonweal contributor Daria Donnelly described as a "very funny, smart new picture book," Babbitt portrays what happens when a hard-of-hearing fairy godmother goes into action. She clones eight Elsies, and havoc ensues as Elsie's parents try to cope. Eventually they locate the godmother, who puts things to rights. Among the book's enthusiasts was Joanna Rudge Long of Horn Book, who praised Babbitt's "lively compositions" and "cheerful narration, with its funny, unexpected turns," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who predicted that the book's premise is "sure to appeal to youngsters." Others held less-laudatory opinions. For example, Grace Oliff, writing in School Library Journal, likened Babbitt's pastel watercolors to those of classic Mother Goose tales and complimented her "inimitable prose style," yet dubbed the story "thin." Although Booklist critic Ilene Cooper also found the premise "slight," she complimented Babbitt for her energetic and "edgy" telling and her ink-andwatercolor illustrations, which contain some "delightful moments."
In Ouch! A Tale from Grimm Babbitt uses her "fine, comfortable storyteller's voice," to quote a Kirkus Reviews critic, to retell the Brothers Grimm tale "The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs." This story revolves around a boy who is born with a crown-shaped birthmark and who is predicted to marry the princess of the kingdom. After some time and after surmounting several challenges, he does marry the princess, only to be ordered by his new father-in-law to pull three hairs from the devil's head. The prince succeeds, thus creating the exclamation of the title. Graced with Frank Marcellino's Renaissance-style illustrations, this book appealed to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who praised Babbitt for her "intelligent retelling, mixed with a dash of sly humor." Ouch! also turned out to be an award winner.
Babbitt believes that writers do not always have an audience of a specific age group in mind. "The source of any book is a writer's sense of urgency that something needs to be said in print," she said in a 1987 PEN symposium and published in the PEN Newsletter. "The choice to write either for children or for adults comes more from a writer's temperament, or is suggested by the age of the main character," she added. She once told CA, "I write for children because I am interested in fantasy and the possibilities for experience of all kinds before the time of compromise. I believe that children are far more perceptive and wise than American books give them credit for being."
In a Horn Book essay, however, Babbitt also expressed her concern about the final effect of fantasy stories on impressionable minds: "On a recent school visit a fifthgrader asked me if the magic spring water in Tuck Everlasting . . . was real. 'No,' I said, 'it isn't real.' 'But,' said the fifth-grader, 'didn't you ever think that when you described it so well, as if it was real, we might believe you?' I have lain awake over that question. Are we somehow implying in our books that the unreal, the impossible, is more greatly to be desired than the real and the possible? Are we maybe whispering that there are instant metamorphoses to be had somewhere, that everyone can and should be a hero? I am only trying to say that we had better tread lightly." In an age when television characters and glamorous celebrities are the most visible role models, the author continued, writers need to be aware of how children's view of themselves can plummet when they compare themselves to fictional wizards and beauty queens: "It is absolutely true that in America anyone can grow up to be president, but the word is can, not will. We'd better be sure our children know that while luck is always a factor in how things turn out, there will be no magic, no fairy godmother, no hag on the road with her basket of charms." Babbitt believes young readers also need to be reminded that in the real world, growth and change can take a long time to achieve.
Looking back on her published work, Babbitt recognizes that many of her own childhood memories are embedded within her stories. The childhood experiences woven into Babbitt's books remain meaningful into adulthood. Anita Moss commented in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that her books remain enjoyable for readers of all ages. A Horn Book reviewer summarized, "Babitt's infectious sense of humor, her wisdom and perspective on life, and her ability not to take herself too seriously—but to take what she writes and her audience very seriously—have shaped a magnificent body of work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Literature Review, Volume 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1976, pp. 5-8.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 52: American Writers for Children since 1960: Poets, Writers, Illustrators, and Nonfiction Authors, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987, pp. 22-29.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, More Books by More People, Citation Press, 1974, pp. 24-29.
Levy, Michael M., Natalie Babbitt, Twayne Publishers (Boston, MA), 1991.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 5, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988, pp. 41-52.
Booklist, October 15, 1989, Ilene Cooper, review of Nellie: A Cat on Her Own, pp. 447-448; February 15, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of of Bub; or, TheVery Best Thing, pp. 1091-1092; January 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, p. 933; April 15, 1995, review of Goody Hall, p. 1502; November 15, 1997, Barbara Elleman, review of The Eyes of the Amaryllis, p. 546; November 15, 1998, review of Ouch!: A Tale from Grimm, p. 582; March 15, 1999, review of Ouch!, p. 1302; November 15, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Elsie Times Eight, pp. 579-580; August, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Peacock and Other Poems, p. 1963.
Books, spring, 2002, review of Tuck Everlasting, p.23.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1994, Betsy Hearne, review of Bub, pp. 312-313; January, 1999, review of Ouch!, p. 159; December, 2001, review of Elsie Times Eight, p. 129.
Children's Book Review Service, March, 1994, review of Bub, p. 85; January, 1999, review of Ouch!, p. 49.
Children's Bookwatch, September, 1998, review of The Something p. 5.
Children's Literature in Education, June, 1990, Kim Aippersbach, "Tuck Everlasting and the Tree at the Center of the World," pp. 83-97.
Commonweal, November 23, 2001, Daria Donnelly, "Wanted: Hobbits, Fairies and Wind-up Toys," p. 22.
Cricket, April, 1974.
Entertainment Weekly, April 8, 1994, review of Bub, p. 69.
Five Owls, May, 1995, review of Tuck Everlasting, p. 100.
Horn Book, August, 1969, p. 407; June, 1970, p. 295; August, 1971, pp. 380-381; February, 1978, Mary M. Burns, review of The Eyes of the Amaryllis, pp. 42-43; November, 1984, pp. 779-783; July, 1987, pp. 509-511; September, 1987, pp. 607-608; May, 1988, pp. 329-331; September, 1988, Natalie Babbitt, "Metamorphosis" pp. 582-589; March, 1989, pp. 133-134; November, 1989, pp. 728-731; May, 1994, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Bub, p. 305; March-April, 1995, Nancy Vasilakis, review of All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, p. 212; January-February, 1999, review of Ouch!, p. 73; November, 2000, Tim Wynne-Jones, review of Tuck Everlasting, p. 720; January-February, 2002, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Elsie Times Eight, p. 66; July-August, 2002, Mary M. Burns, review of Peacock and Other Poems, p. 481.
Instructor, January, 1993, reviews of Nellie, The Search for Delicious, and Tuck Everlasting, p. 57.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1994, review of Bub, p. 137; November 1, 1998, review of Ouch!, p. 1596; August 15, 2001, review of Elsie Times Eight, p. 1206; March 1, 2002, review of Peacock and Other Poems, p. 349.
Learning, January, 1995, review of The Search for Delicious, p. 16.
Library Journal, May 15, 1969, p. 2096; June 15, 1970, p. 2306; October, 1974, Jane Abramson, review of The Devil's Storybook, p. 102; November 1, 2001, review of Tuck Everlasting, p. 160.
Ms., May 11, 1990, Michele Landsberg, review of Tuck Everlasting, p. 74.
New Advocate, fall, 1994, review of Bub, p. 284.
New Statesman, November, 1968.
New Yorker, December 4, 1971, p. 199.
New York Times Book Review, July 2, 1967, p. 16; November 9, 1969, p. 62; May 2, 1971, p. 18; July 28, 1974, p. 8; November 16, 1975, p. 32; November 13, 1977, p. 37; November 14, 1982, pp. 44, 54; November 1, 1987, p. 36; June 19, 1994, review of Bub, p. 28; March 14, 1999, review of Ouch!, p. 31; January 20, 2002, review of Elsie Times Eight, p. 15.
PEN Newsletter, September, 1988, pp. 16-26.
Publishers Weekly, January 3, 1994, review of Bub, p. 80; November 2, 1998, review of Ouch!, p. 80; October 1, 2001, review of Elsie Times Eight, p. 60; February 11, 2002, review of Peacock and Other Poems, p. 184.
Quill & Quire, October, 1993, review of Tuck Everlasting, p. 18.
Reading Teacher, September, 1999, review of Ouch!, p. 83.
Redbook, December, 1971.
School Library Journal, April, 1994, review of Bub, p. 96; June, 1995, review of Tuck Everlasting (audio version), p. 71; May, 1996, review of The Search for Delicious (audio version), p. 76; April, 1997, review of Kneeknock Rise (audio version), p. 82; December, 1998, review of Ouch!, p. 100; February, 1999, review of Bub, p. 68; February, 2001, Teresa Bateman, review of Ouch! (audiobook review), p. 61; November, 2001, Kathleen Isaacs, "Tikvah: Children's Book Creators Reflect on Human Rights," p. 198; November, 2001, Grace Oliff, review of Elsie Times Eight, p. 110; May, 2002, Nicole Lindsay, review of Peacock and Other Poems, p. 145.
Time, December 7, 1998, review of Ouch!, p. 219.
Times Literary Supplement, April 4, 1975, p. 365; July 16, 1976, p. 882; March 25, 1977, p. 348; June 29, 1984, p. 737; August 31, 1984, p. 977.
Top of the News, summer, 1987, pp. 376-382.
Washington Post Book World, December 12, 1982, p. 8; April 3, 1994, Michael Dirda, review of Bub, p. 10; November 1, 1998, review of Ouch!, p. 8; December 9, 2001, review of Elsie Times Eight, p. 8.
Writer, June, 1971.
"A Visit with Natalie Babbitt," Tuck Everlasting, DVD special feature, Walt Disney Home Video, 2003.*