Sample Reading Response Answers
(Children's Literature Midterm Examination)
On E. B. White's Charlotte's Web:
Wilbur's retreat from freedom and passive acceptance, if not preference, of captivity relates to his inability to cope with the outside pressures of life. His time has not yet come. Freedom is not ordained from high but dependant upon choice and Wilbur chooses his comfortable sty rather than an elusive idea. This resonates with John-Jacques Rousseau who stated that "man is born free but is everywhere in chains." Wilbur makes the conscious choice to remain "penned up in my own yard" and gladly wears the chains of comfort, although sure to meet his demise, rather than face the rigors and harsh realities of freedom.
On Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden:
A paradigm shift is seen in Mary when she asks this question of her uncle. The anaphoric use of "might I" emphasizes Mary's willingness to put herself in a much lower position than her uncle. When she "quavers" to ask this question, and has to be reassured by him to go ahead and ask, one can instantaneously recognize the change in Mary's attitude. Mary goes from being self-centered, "haughty" (20), "demanding" (21), "full of rage" (22), and "cold" (23) to being soft, requesting, thoughtful and even afraid by this point. Her choice of words--"a bit"-- highlights how little and thus how insignificant her needs are for the giver. Finally, by using the term "earth," Mary pulls away the ownership of the garden that she's requesting from her uncle and makes it the property of the world. This one sentence can very well be the essence of Mary's life at Misselthwaite Manor.
On C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
Time and space in Narnia do not follow the same course as in England. Time moves along in some peculiar ways, most tellingly in how the children grow to adulthood in the space of one chapter at the end to become rulers of Narnia. What happens between childhood and adulthood is not to be bothered with, is not important in the children's imagination. What is important is that evil is defeated, and, as a result, they become kings and queens--and only adults can become kings and queens. Space too is somewhat unsettling. There is a vastness to Narnia; it is an undiscovered country, a sprawling kingdom in need of exploration. The oddness of space can be seen in the wardrobe, the transitional portal between worlds. We expect the space of the wardrobe to be confining and constricted, but as a portal it is much larger. The transition is not a sudden one but gradual, as Lucy moves in the darkness without sight using her sense of touch and smell. It is a moment when the reader must use poetic faith, must suspend all reason, a suspension made all the easier by Lewis's deft, gradual description of the transition between "real" and imaginative worlds. The chronotopes of Narnia and England are most sharply contrasted when the children return from the world of imagination to our "real" world. It is as if no time has expired, indeed no time has expired except perhaps in the time it take a child to daydream. When one dreams it often seems as if a large amount of time has elapsed when in reality only a short time has passed. Lewis has masterfully captured this sense of his magical realm.
This is another response on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
There are many important signs which must be read carefully. Many pertain to what is good and what is evil. Many of the signs seem easy to read, but Edmund does not seem to be able to read them correctly. In this essay, I will discuss some of the more conventional signs and determine why Edmund has such difficulty. Almost all of the signs having to do with the witch seem to be ignored by Edmund. Her deathly pale skin and blood red lips are both signs that she is evil. The uncomfortable feeling that Edmund felt around the witch is a sign from inside of him that is ignored. The animals that were turned to stone are a sign of her evil misuse of power. Edmund does not read these signs correctly. Instead he justifies them to himself: "All these people who say nasty things are enemies" (72). The reason for Edmund's misreading is most likely his upbringing. Unlike his other siblings, Edmund was sent away to boarding school and receives a much different education. This might have hardened him in some way so that he has a more difficult time loving, trusting, and knowing right from wrong. An example of this is when the robin appears. Everyone decides to follow it, but Edmund is hesitant, asking, "[h]ow do you know that he isn't leading us the wrong way?" (67). Peter replies that robins are always good because they are that way in books. Edmund has not read these books. His life has been different. Because of his different upbringing and the enticement of Turkish Delight, he is unable to interpret signs correctly.
On Virginia Hamilton's Cousins:
The bluety is the manipulation of "mystery," the dreadful unknown: it is "odd," "sickly," "dark," "bottomless," and named the "blue-devil." Blue also has connotations of depression and sadness ("the blues"). These are all negative associations that point in the direction of coming tragedy. But the children's description--"bluety"--also adds texture to our understanding of the bluety. To my ear, bluety can rhyme with "beauty," and so sounds somewhat harmless, but this is perhaps due to the children putting a "cute" label to their fear, a way of understanding and facing the fear of this mystery spot by naming it. They even devise cute rhymes in this effort to control their fear: "There's the bluety! I kid you not, tooty," Elodie yells. But the dark, bottomless bluety may also reflect the blue of the sky, suggesting something deep, eternal, and godly. One often associates water with baptism or with change. Indeed one can argue that the bluety reflects the moment of change in Cammy's life and is, for her, the marker of a turning point or a rite of passage. This multistable image, then, is the powerful symbol of inner transformation, the defining moment of Cammy's life when she experiences the tragedy of death and is able, through recognition of her perception of Patty Ann's drowning, to face up to death and to an ultimate acceptance of the nature of life and death.
On Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting:
The image of the ferris wheel presents a palimpsest metaphor, containing several layers of interconnected meanings, and is inextricably linked to the theme of the book: being stuck in time. First, the wheel image suggests a cycle, and if one is at the top, the cycle is pausing (in August). The seasons as a cycle are also implied in this description as "halting," as the top of the ferris wheel is "labeled" August. Secondly, tied in with the theme of the story is how being stuck in time or going through change can alter our perception of time or of life itself. In the latter part of the book, this trope of the ferris wheel is related to a clock --in particular, a clock striking midnight. Here it is described: "the night seemed poised on tip-toe waiting, waiting. She had not missed her moment--it was five to midnight" (120). Winnie's perception of time and purpose have changed due to her experiences with the Tucks. Throughout the chapter, time seems immobile, until finally, midnight hits and the reader finds himself once again at the top of the ferris wheel. After Winnie has helped Mae Tuck, the wheel slowly begins to turn, evident through descriptions of nature: "the wheel was turning again, slowly now, but soon to go faster" (127). The leaves soon become "silver" and storms are foreshadowed. Only after the climax or until things are set right can time continue diachronically, the wheel never stopping. Overall, the ferris wheel is a multistable image of how perceptions of time are altered and influenced throughout the novel and in our minds.