If you’re lucky, when you’re young, you’ll be introduced to a writer who changes the way you see the world and the way you see yourself. I don’t think I would have recognized Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s influence on me had I not re-encountered her books as a college senior. The library at my college had a small children’s section, and I found it to be a quiet and pleasant place to work. It was in this room that I found an old copy of the novel I fell in love with as a child: Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Changeling.
I read it again, and I fell in love with it again. I passed it on to my best friend. When she finished, she came to me with the book in her hand and said, “I wish someone had put this book in my hands when I was a kid.”
That’s when I realized how lucky I was that someone did put The Changeling in my hands. And I remember who did: my third and fourth grade teacher Mary Ellen DeLacy.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s books changed me. They made me realize that the world has mysteries and magic grown-ups don’t acknowledge, often because those grown-ups are scared of things they don’t understand. They taught me that being true to yourself might be difficult at times, but it’s the only path to a happy and rewarding—and possibly magical—life. They taught me that one true friend is worth dozens of acquaintances. These are truths I try to hold to even today. They might have been harder to come by had I not found them so early, and found them in a story.
The Changeling tells the story of two girls, tracing their friendship over the course of six years, from the day they meet in second grade until they part—under dramatic circumstances—in eighth grade. At first, they seem like an unlikely match. In second grade, when they meet, Martha is “a little fat for a seven-year-old” with “straight pale hair…cut very short, because sometimes she cried when it was combed.” At home, amidst her overachieving and ambitious family, Martha is “known as Marty Mouse, because her new front teeth were coming in too far out, and because she was very easy to frighten.” Then Ivy walks into Martha’s classroom. Ivy with her family of troubles and her wild dark hair, who befriends Martha over lost imaginary friends and begins a friendship, a friendship that will change them both.
In The Changeling, Snyder walks the tightrope between reality and fantasy, opening the possibility of magic, but leaving the final interpretation of events to her readers. In writing this way, she endows her readers with a certain trust: she won’t tell us what to believe, but she knows—as her characters know—that what we choose to believe defines us. With Ivy and Martha, two girls who don’t fit into any cookie cutter molds of what the world says they should be, the power to define themselves and their world changes everything. When Martha asks Ivy if she really believes—as she claims—that she’s a changeling, a fairy swapped at birth and sent to live with a pretty horrible family, Ivy’s response captures the spirit of the novel, and the reason why I love Snyder’s books. Ivy tells Martha, “’I believe in just about everything.’”
When I discovered that The Changeling had fallen out of print, I couldn’t believe it. My best friend tracked down a copy and gave it to me as a birthday present, but while I was thrilled to have it back on my shelf—I read it at least once a year—I was sad to discover that it wasn’t getting into more hands of more young readers. Luckily, it’s orderable now through Backinprint.com, a company that keeps it alive through print-on-demand publishing. I’ve already ordered several copies, as I always want to be ready to give it away. It’s that kind of a book.
While The Changeling is my favorite of Snyder’s books—my favorite of any books—she’s written many others that I’ve enjoyed, and I don’t think a reader cold go wrong with any book by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Some of my other favorites are The Headless Cupid, A Fabulous Creature, The Egypt Game, and The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case.
There are a lot of people who claim a book—words on paper—can’t change the world. But I know this: Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s books changed me.
Snyder, Zilpha Keatley. The Changeling. Lincoln: iUniverse Inc, 2010.
(available through BackinPrint.com)
I’m a teacher and a writer and a daughter and an aunt. I'm also a reader. I've always loved to read. I’ll read anything, but I have a personal and professional interest in young adult (YA) literature. When I tell adults I read a lot of young adult (YA) books, they often get a sort of vague look in their eyes, a look that says something like: “You’re an adult. Shouldn’t you be reading grown-up books?” And while I do read lots of “grown-up” books, I also know that lots of exciting things are going on in the YA section of the bookstores and libraries right now. And it looks like I’m not the only grown-up to have figured that out, as the New York Times recently published an article about adult fans of YA.
Still, my greatest inspirations for this blog are my students, who willingly accept my recommendations—I believe there’s a book out there for everyone—and who offer up their own recommendations for me. Over the years, I’ve been making book lists for my students, and I see this as an ever-evolving book list, where I can read—with relish—YA books, and write about them and—hopefully—these books will find their ways into another reader’s hands. And another’s, and another’s…