William Mayne Natalie Babbitt - Essay

Natalie Babbitt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At first, a William Mayne story always sounds to me as if it had been translated from some other tongue by someone with a rather thin gift for languages. The structures are awkward, and sometimes passages have to be paraphrased to reveal their meaning. But after a few pages, the reader grows accustomed to all this and forgets it, because Mayne's style has a strength all its own and the strength takes over.

This story [of "A Year and a Day"], unlike some others of his, is a gentle, uncomplicated tale….

It has no particular wisdom or message, nor even the traditional—suspense and drama of the folktales it most nearly resembles. The characters do not live on in the imagination after the book is closed. But the sense of something in motion behind this story, and the resonance of its telling, provide a special power, as they do in all of Mayne's work. Perhaps it is simply that he cares very much about what he is doing, that instead of being skimmed from the surface, his stories come from very deep in the well. This is a rare thing in children's fiction and should be celebrated wherever it is found. (p. 40)

Natalie Babbitt, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 2, 1976.