Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: The Changeling

Title: The Changeling
Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Date: 1970
Publisher: Atheneum / Scholastic Book Services
ISBN: none (click here to see it on Amazon)
Length: 232 pages
Illustrations: drawings by Alton Raible
Quote: “[A] changeling comes when some other creatures, gnomes or witches or fairies or trolls, steal a human baby and put one of their own babies in its place...when the babies are just a few hours old...Aunt Evaline and I think I might be a wood nymph or a water sprite.”
Martha is the shy, quiet baby sister in a family of high achievers. Ivy is the creative, idealistic baby sister in a family of tough guys and alcoholics. The Changeling is the story of their friendship, which lasts all through their school years and culminates when the girls have to find out who really committed a crime (a mean girl in their class has accused them).
It’s chick-lit; what Snyder’s son categorized as a “sad story about girls” when he demanded that she write Black and Blue Magic, a funny story about a boy. It doesn’t really fit into the stereotype of what children in any particular grade ought to be reading; too slow-paced and emotional for most middle school readers, too chaste and simply told for most teenagers. (Even in grade ten, Ivy and Martha don’t seem to think their lives need any romance.) It can be read as Snyder’s reaction to the elitist bigotry of which some Americans hadn’t even become ashamed in 1970: adults think Kelly, who belongs to a “nice” middle-class family like Martha’s, would be an appropriate friend for Martha, but Kelly is thoroughly hateful; adults think Ivy would be a bad influence, but she’s as good a friend as a little girl can be.
It is, however, the reality-based story behind Snyder’s venture into fantasy, a few years later, in Below the Root. Some readers may find these stories interesting enough to compare and contrast and consider how Snyder had developed as a writer during the years between these two novels. In The Changeling Ivy invents, Martha co-writes, and they act out as a dance, the story of the Tree People; in Below the Root the story reappears as an independent fantasy adventure. Both novels contain embedded anti-drug messages. Which way of embedding an anti-drug message in a story works for you?
For me The Changeling is also useful as a study of the two healthy introverted traits that frequently appear in females. The physical traits that produce LBS and HSP personalities hadn’t been scientifically identified yet, but it’s obvious that Martha, who is neither stupid nor hypothyroid but consistently “slower” than her siblings, has a long brain stem and Ivy, who tells stories and becomes a dancer, has high sensory perceptivity. By now educational picture books about introversion are available for for preliterate children. Verbally talented introverts may still prefer to read a story about the adventures of two school-aged introverts, rather than a picture book aimed at younger children. So, although The Changeling was among Snyder’s slower-selling books and may not be easy to find, it’s still worth buying for an introverted little girl. 
Or for yourself, if you were once an introverted little girl (or boy) and still enjoy a simple story that’s not about adultery or murder. Like most novels aimed at child readers, The Changeling may not be complex enough to draw adults back again and again, but the plot takes enough turns to get an adult through a few hours of down time.

The Changeling has become a bit of a collector's item. What I have is the first paperback edition, in rather poor condition (likely to fall apart if you breathe on it too hard), and if local readers physically buy it I can give them a better price, but if you buy this book online the best I can do will be $10 for the book + $5 for shipping. Unfortunately, Zilpha Keatley Snyder no longer needs the $1.50 that we'd send her, or a charity of her choice, if we could still offer The Changeling as a Fair Trade Book.