Thursday, October 3, 2013

Frightful and Fine, an introduction to the children's novel KNEEKNOCK RISE

From the moment I first met this book it has been a personal favorite, a dear friend.  It is a wise, clever, wonderful story for young readers and a very handsome volume because it is well designed and has beautiful ink drawings by the author, Natalie Babbitt.  As a bookseller, I would often pick up this title and recommend it to a customer.  First, I would open the book up in order to tantalize them with the great look of the book, and then I would read parts of this terrific opening chapter out loud--loudly enough for other people in the store to hear as well.  Read this excerpt out loud to a friend and you will both want to read the book!

An excerpt from Kneeknock Rise

Story and Pictures by Natalie Babbitt

…One of the mounds was different from its brothers, rockier, taller, and decidedly more cliff-like, with steeper sides and fewer softening trees, and its crest was forever shrouded in a little cloud of mist.  Here lay the heart of the mountains’ charm; here, like Eve’s forbidden fruit, dwelt their mystery, for good or evil.  For from somewhere in that mist, on stormy nights when the rain drove harsh and cold, an undiscovered creature would lift its voice and moan.  It moaned like a lonely demon, like a mad, despairing animal, like a huge and anguished something chained forever to its own great tragic disappointments.
            Nobody knew what it was that lived high up in the mist.  As far back as memory could grope, no one had climbed the cliff to see.  The creature had mourned there for a thousand years, in isolation so splendid, and with sorrows so infinitely greater that any of their own, that the people were struck with awe and respect. Therefore, climbing the cliff was something they simply did not do, and curious children were early and easily discouraged from trying by long and grisly tales which told what might well happen if they did.
            From time to time, in the land below the cliff, strange things in fact did happen.  A straying sheep would be found slaughtered, a pail of milk would sour, a chimney would unreasonably topple.  These things were considered by some to be the work of the creature on the cliff, while others refused to believe that it ever left its misty nest.  But they all had their favorite charms against it, and to all of them the cliff was the grandest, most terrible thing in the world.  They trembled over it, whispered about it, and fed their hearts to bursting with gleeful terrors.  It was frightful and fine and it belonged to them. They called it Kneeknock Rise.

Natalie Babbitt's original intention was to become an illustrator, and to that end she studied art at the Laurel School in Cleveland and at Smith College.  She began writing primarily to have stories to illustrate.  Her best-known work is Tuck Everlasting which was published in 1975.  She received the Newbery Honor Medal for KneeKnock Rise. Her home is in Providence, Rhode Island.

title page

Kneeknock Rise, Story and Pictures by Natalie Babbitt, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1970)

Also by Natalie Babbitt:

cover art for Tuck Everlasting

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