In the second episode of Rereading Our Childhood, Debby and Mary Grace reread Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, E.L. Konigsburg’s 1967 debut novel.
Jennifer, Hecate… is narrated by Elizabeth, a fifth grader who has just moved to a suburb of New York. She has no friends until she meets Jennifer, who says she’s a witch and offers to train Elizabeth as her apprentice. A series of challenges ensues (one week, for example, Jennifer has to eat a raw onion every day), and Elizabeth also faces the more common challenges of dealing with her teachers and classmates. In this episode, Debby and Mary Grace discuss witchcraft, race, childhood friendships, and the pronunciation of “Hecate.”
Konigsburg’s second novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, was also published in 1967. It won the Newbery award in 1968, and Jennifer Hecate… was a runner-up. She is the only writer ever to have won both honors in the same year.
Debby and Mary Grace mentioned these other books by E.L. Konigsburg:
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Konigsburg’s Newbery Award winner about a brother and sister who run away to the Metropolitan Museum.
(George), about a boy in Florida who thinks that a little man named George lives in his head.
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, the life of medieval queen Eleanor of Aquitaine as narrated by people close to Eleanor as they wait for her to join them in heaven.
About the B’nai Bagels, about a Jewish boy whose mother coaches his baseball team.
Kongisburg and her family were living in the suburban town of Port Chester, New York, when she write Jennifer, Hecate. The town Jennifer and Elizabeth live in is based on Port Chester. As Mary Grace mentioned, Konigsburg’s children faced harassment because they were Jewish. Laurie Konigsburg Todd, discusses this in an interview in a Smithsonian Magazine article commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of From the Mixed-Up Files.
Here are some covers of various editions of Jennifer, Hecate:
This is the 50th anniversary edition, which replicates the first edition cover.
This is the cover of the paperback edition Debby and Mary Grace read as children (they both still have their copies), featuring Jennifer, Elizabeth, and their toad, Hillary Ezra.
This is the cover of a recent paperback edition, which, as Mary Grace mentioned, has been criticized for “erasing” Jennifer, who is African-American.
Here’s a Puffin edition with the abridged British title.
Mary Grace mentioned that a well-known British author criticized E.L. Konigsburg’s long titles. The author, John Rowe Townsend, is quoted in this article as calling the titles “gimmicky” and “an irritation” .
Here are the books that Debby and Mary Grace recommended for fans of Jennifer Hecate:
The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, about a group of children in Berkeley, California, who perform ancient Egyptian rituals. Is it just a game, or something more?
Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh, the classic story of Manhattan girl who spies on her neighbors and records her observations about them, and about her classmates, in her journal.
And, lastly, here’s Merriam-Webster’s definition of Hecate, with pronunciations. Bottom line: Debby and Mary Grace are both right!
The podcast is hosted by Buzzsprout at rereadingourchildhood.buzzsprout.com and is available on Spotify, Apple Podcast, and other podcast platforms. Links are available on the Buzzsprout site.
You can find Debby’s author interviews on her blog, Books Q&A by Deborah Kalb and Mary Grace’s adventures in the 1920s on her blog, My Life 100 Years Ago.
This episode was edited by Adam Linder of Bespoken Podcasting.