A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
APRIL 16:

  • Happy birthday John Christopher (The White Mountains), Eleanora E. Tate (Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance), and Eva Moore (Buddy: The First Seeing Eye Dog).
  • It’s the birth date of Garth Williams (1912-1996), Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, The Cricket in Times Square, the Little House series; Dorothy P. Lathrop (1891-1980), Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, Gunnel Beckman (1910-2003), Admission to the Feast, and Sir Kingsley Amis (1922-1995), We Are All Guilty.
  • In 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. pens his famous letter from the Birmingham Jail. Read When the Children Marched: The Birmingham Civil Rights Movement by Robert H. Mayer and A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement From 1954 to 1968 by Diane McWhorter.

On April 16, 1922, John Christopher was born as Samuel Youd in Lancashire, England. Leaving school at sixteen, Christopher began writing adult science fiction novels, but then a British publisher asked Christopher if he would try his hand at a science fiction novel for young readers.

Quite naively Christopher believed that writing a book for children might be easy and quick. The British publisher wanted one set in the future; Christopher preferred the past. So he imagined a world in which a race of aliens captured Earth, and in the battle with those creatures a type of feudal society has sprung up. In this world Christopher could match his own interests with a futuristic novel.

To control the human race, these aliens place a cap on people’s heads when they become young adults. But thirteen-year-old Will Parker longs for another kind of life, living with the free men in the White Mountains. And so he and two companions, Henry and Beanpole, make a journey from England, over the channel, and through France. In one magical chapter they encounter a devastated Paris, some of it still exhibiting grandeur even in decay. The key to Christopher’s writing lies in his belief in the importance of free will. Again and again, Will has to choose whether he wants a life of ease under the aliens or the possibility of being his own person. With a taut plot, fascinating characters, and interesting philosophical issues, the Tripod series, which began with The White Mountains and appeared in 1967–1968, draws readers in and does not let them go until the saga has been finished.

As an adult science fiction writer, Christopher was accustomed to having his books go into print as soon as he had written them. It was much to his surprise, then, when an American children’s book editor dared to suggest that although the beginning of The White Mountains was quite promising, the entire novel needed an overhaul. He began to realize that this “mere children’s book” would need a great deal more attention to craft than he had ever paid to his other books. In an essay written in 2003 in the paperback edition of The White Mountaisn Christopher credits that American editor, Susan Hirschman, with teaching him valuable lessons about writing for the young – and spurring him on to create books that have lasted.

John Christopher died this year, before he reached his ninetieth birthday. In its day his Tripod series stood as one of the few well-written dystopic series for young readers. Today, of course, there are a multitude of choices for those aged ten to fourteen who want to think about what might happen to the Earth in the future. But Christopher’s work and novels like Lois Lowry’s The Giver remain the standard bearer for this genre; they remind us just how good science fiction novels for young readers can be.

Here’s a passage from The White Mountains:

They were spaced out, a hundred yards or so apart, and the beams of light swept the ground before and between them. They were traveling more slowly than I had seen a Tripod travel, but even so they were going faster than we could run. And were, as far as we knew, tireless. They made no sound, save for the dull thumping of their feet, and somehow this was more frightening than the howling of the other Tripod had been.

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Originally posted April 16, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Dystopia, Quest
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The White Mountains
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COMMENTS

  1. Jana says:

    LOVE this series! Great post!

  2. Barb says:

    I loved the public television show “Cover to Cover” with John Robbins (he would sketch a scene while a scene was read from a book) when I was growing up and this book was one I remember from that the most. I guess John Robbins was my Anita Silvey in the 70s!

  3. Jory Hearst says:

    One of my 6th grade students was just commenting on loving this series, and wondering if it would get popular again because everyone loves dystopias now. I’ve never read this series, but between my student and you, I’m curious to finally read it.

    I feel like I’ve been away from this blog for so long, Anita, but I was so happy to go on today and find you as informative and on-the-money as ever!

  4. Anita says:

    Jory: It always makes me happy to see a post from you. I, too, hope that some of the Hunger Games fever spills over to this great series. The White Mountains was as exciting to reread as it was to read so many years ago for me.

  5. Anita says:

    Barb: Maybe I can even be a Captain Kangeroo to the next generation! Anita

  6. Linda Baie says:

    I have loved, re-read & suggested this series to many of my middle school readers. It looks slim when one sees it, but it is packed with great stuff! Thank you for this review!

  7. My sixth grade teacher read these books out loud to us (along with the “Dealing with Dragons” books — kind of a strange combo!) I was really into Star Wars at that age, but this book helped open me up to more awesome scifi. They were such exciting books, and I remember waiting impatiently all day for the time when our teacher would read aloud to us. Plus we definitely did tripod-themed artwork. Which was awesome.

  8. Emily Hollingshead says:

    Discovered this series accidentally in a used bookstore when I was a preteen (City of Gold and Lead), and had my mother and sister wrapped up in it with me in no time. Almost 20 years later, Christopher is a part of our family culture (along with Zenna Henderson, Monica Hughes, Lois Lowry, Orson Scott Card — we’re kind of a scifi family). So excited when I heard that they were reissuing his books!

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