The Changeling – Zilpha Keatley Snyder, illustrated by Alton Raible

I woke up this morning thinking, “Martha’s not such a bad name.  I would name a kid Martha.  Or maybe Marta and she could be called Marty if she wanted.”  And then I lay around wondering where that thought had come from, until I remembered Marty Mouse and realized that what I really would like is to name twins Martha and Ivy (not necessarily have twins, but just to name them).  And then I thought about The Changeling, and the spell for not growing up (you know – not being a Grown Up), and realized that I have to write a review.

There are many books out there called The Changeling.  Unsurprisingly in this, the age of Twilight,* most of them look, well, inspired.  (To be fair, I haven’t actually read them.  And they may well have been inspired by other books more of the fantastical mien).

*although really, did quasi-Gothic (pre) teen horrordrama really ever go out of fashion?  Or am I the only one who remembers V.C. Andrews, Anne Rice, and R.L. Stine?

But I digress.  Since I can’t find “my” cover, and since Ivy looks idiotic in the only cover I can find, I’m going to treat you with an illustration from inside the book, and then get on with the review:

I peeled this from someone who was using it as a userpic. I wish I had thought of it first

The Changeling is kind of about Martha, the youngest and misfit child in her stunningly blonde All-American family.  Marty’s siblings are athletic, popular, and smart enough.  Her parents are model parents.  And no one can understand why “Marty Mouse” is a shy crybaby who can’t seem to make friends with the right kids or do or enjoy any of the things everyone else does.  You quickly get the feeling that Marty goes to school unable to hide her fear and – well, you know how kids smell fear – immediately becomes the victim of the many obvious and not-so-obvious forms of exclusion practiced in a schoolyard.

The Changeling is also kind of about Ivy, the second-youngest and misfit child in her stunningly non-blonde All American family from the Wrong Side of the Tracks (ah, the many faces of the United States!).  Ivy’s male siblings are either doing time, just returned from doing time, or doing things that will eventually (if they get caught) have them doing time.  Ivy’s female siblings are, for the most part, unmentioned…which – now that I think about it – is a bit sinister.  Ivy’s dad is mentioned only once, in passing, defiantly.  But you get the feeling he is not such a nice guy.  And the only impression I have of Ivy’s mother is a limply faded ghost of a woman.  Unlike Marty, Ivy Carson goes to school completely unafraid of how the kids will treat her despite her strange clothes, her flyaway hair, and her name.

Ivy is the new girl – and a Carson – raised by a great-aunt and only lately returned to her family.  The other kids at school know enough to avoid any Carson child, but Ivy quickly befriends Martha, and introduces her to a world made rich with imagination.  Ivy is convinced that she’s a changeling – not really a part of her family – and that no matter what other Carsons do, she is somehow fundamentally different.

Martha is drawn in and, in interrupted blocks of time, the two grow up together and not-together.  Interrupted, because whenever a Carson gets in trouble, the Carsons move away for awhile until the heat dies down.  Every time Ivy returns, both she and Martha are a little different – a little older, a little more aware of the world around them.

Ivy dances through the world with Anne-of-Green-Gables eyes.  (If you can believe that Anne spent the first 12 years of her life an orphan, which in those days meant miserably treated and unloved, and still was able to say, “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world,” without cynicism, then surely you can believe that Ivy Carson is capable of the same).  She brings colour and a defiant difference to Martha’s quiet and unhappy world.  And Martha’s evolution into, well, older-Martha is equally compelling.  Ivy somehow stays herself through the whole book, whereas Martha develops into herself, which makes for a very interesting read.

The only other thing I want to say is that The Changeling is one of the few books from which I have memorized something (the others being Julius Caesar, for school, and The Last Samurai, because I’ve read it so many times).  The “something” is Ivy and Martha’s spell for not-growing-up:

Know all the Questions, but not the Answers
Look for the Different, instead of the Same
Never Walk where there’s room for Running
Don’t do anything that can’t be a Game

I have to say, there is no mantra that I turn to more often, when I am feeling frustrated, uninspired, uninspiring, or just plain Down.

A note on the illustrations:  I’ve written about Alton Raible before, in my review of The Witches of Worm.  His illustrations (1 per chapter?) are spot-on, as usual.  And no creepy witch-cats, thank goodness!

Reading Ages:  12-15.  The language is simple and could probably be read earlier, but I think that the later chapters are more easily understood by older children.  I admit that I really think I missed the subtleties of the book when I was younger.

Spell Mantra I am Most Likely to Break: “Never walk when there’s room for running”.  I quite like walking.  I don’t like running.  It’s hurrisome and makes me sweaty in the summer and slip in the winter.  But occasionally, when I’m in a park and think of this book, I’ll trot for a bit.

Rating: A for kids, and A+ for non-Grown Ups.

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13 thoughts on “The Changeling – Zilpha Keatley Snyder, illustrated by Alton Raible

  1. Here’s a couple of images from the book for you.

    That’s off my battered old paperback and I need to scan a better one now that I’ve got a first edition hardcover.

    I’ll never forget the day I walked into the high school library and that book was on the new books shelf. I just took it without a second thought. I was an old fan of hers already and thought “of course she would write a book called The Changeling.”

    I think her books are great and the illustrations are perfect. I used to make up games like that all the time. (Don’t ever let anyone tell you guys don’t play games like that!) I took “drawing lessons” from that guy’s illustrations for years.

    Did you catch that Ivy was part Hispanic? The oldest Carson girl was Brenda who was always busy with other things. I had the idea she worked as a cashier or something and was the only one with a steady income. Anything to stay out of the house as much as possible.

  2. Thanks for the pics! I love that one of Ivy climbing the tree. I’d forgotten about it (I don’t have the book – it’s hiding somewhere in my dad’s house).

    I kind of thought that maybe Ivy was part Hispanic, deep down inside. But I think I was also secretly hoping that she was actually part Asian, instead, so that we could be more alike 😉

  3. Well, who knows. Maybe Monty Carson, Ivy’s dad, was part Asian. It is California, after all. And we don’t know much about Aunt Evaline other than that she’s a distant relative of Monty’s.

    Did you play Below the Root? I was hooked on it for years. There is a version for the C64 emulator but it doesn’t always work so well.

  4. I didn’t play Below the Root, but it sounds familiar…let me just see…. (wiki-s). Oh my goodness – it looks awesome! I’m going to have to get a C64 emulator and give it a try. I played Alice in Wonderland on the C64 emulator and I think this was next on the list, but I never made the ZKS connection. THANK YOU!!

  5. The Phantom Tollbooth!! And Emil and the Detectives! Yeah, I definitely agree with many of these. I can’t wait to get back to blogging once this pesky thesis is out of the way (this week… knock on wood).

    Thanks, BC! 🙂

  6. Saw this because Ms. Snyder died today and I needed to read about The Changeling. I have their mantra memorized too. I am so sad today.

      1. Me too. I am hunting through boxes. I did find The Velvet Room which I love almost as much. A huge loss.

        Thanks for writing this entry, loved reading your thoughts.

  7. I know exactly where all my copies of her books are, and I will probably be doing the same thing. When I had an emergency hospitalization some years ago my friend brought things from my house for me and asked what books would I like, and I chose the Green-sky books. I read them all that weekend.

    Here’s an imaginative ‘where are they now’ about The Changeling from another reader. I hope someone writes Dr. Snyder’s biography. I hope Below the Root finally gets made into a Windows video game.

  8. I wish I could find my copies…I was just at my dad’s house hunting around in his crawl-space/basement, and ended up with handfuls of picture books (Charlie Brown’s Book of Facts, Sesame Street Library) instead. Nostalgic, but not at all the same thing!

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