The Search for Delicious

The Search for Delicious

by Natalie Babbitt


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Gaylen, the King's messenger, a skinny boy of twelve, is off to poll the kingdom, traveling from town to farmstead to town on his horse, Marrow. At first it is merely a question of disagreement at the royal castle over which food should stand for Delicious in the new dictionary. But soon it seems that the search for Delicious had better succeed if civil war is to be avoided.

Gaylen's quest leads him to the woldweller, a wise, 900-year-old creature who lives alone at the precise center of the forest; to Canto, the minstrel who sings him an old song about a mermaid child and who gives him a peculiar good-luck charm; to the underground domain of the dwarfs; and finally to Ardis who might save the kingdom from havoc.

The Search for Delicious is a 1969 New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of the Year.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312369828
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 08/21/2007
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 175,752
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 910L (what's this?)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Artist and writer Natalie Babbitt (1932–2016) is the award-winning author of the modern classic Tuck Everlasting and many other brilliantly original books for young people. As the mother of three small children, she began her career in 1966 by illustrating The Forty-Ninth Magician, written by her husband, Samuel Babbitt. She soon tried her own hand at writing, publishing two picture books in verse. Her first novel, TheSearch for Delicious, was published in 1969 and established her reputation for creating magical tales with profound meaning. Kneeknock Rise earned Babbitt a Newbery Honor in 1971, and she went on to write—and often illustrate—many more picture books, story collections,and novels. She also illustrated the five volumes in the Small Poems series by Valerie Worth. In 2002, Tuck Everlasting was adapted into a major motion picture, and in 2016 a musical version premiered on Broadway. Born and raised in Ohio, Natalie Babbitt lived her adult life in the Northeast.

Read an Excerpt


By Natalie Babbitt

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1969 Natalie Babbitt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-36534-9

Chapter One

There was a time once when the earth was still very young, a time some call the oldest days. This was long before there were any people about to dig parts of it up and cut parts of it off. People came along much later, building their towns and castles (which nearly always fell down after a while) and plaguing each other with quarrels and supper parties. The creatures who lived on the earth in that early time stayed each in his own place and kept it beautiful. There were dwarfs in the mountains, woldwellers in the forests, mermaids in the lakes, and, of course, winds in the air.

There was one particular spot on the earth where a ring of mountains enclosed a very dry and dusty place. There were winds and dwarfs there, but no mermaids because there weren't any lakes, and there were no woldwellers either because forests couldn't grow in so dry a place.

Then a remarkable thing happened. Up in the mountains one day a dwarf was poking about with a sharp tool, looking for a good spot to begin mining. He poked and poked until he had made a very deep hole in the earth. Then he poked again and clear spring water came spurting up in the hole. He hurried in great excitement to tell the other dwarfs and they all came running to see the water. They were so pleased with it that they built over it a fine house of heavy stones and they made a special door out of a flat rock and balanced it in its place very carefully on carved hinges. Then one of them made a whistle out of a small stone which blew a certain very high note tuned to just the right warble so that when you blew it, the door of the rock house would open, and when you blew it again, the door would shut. They took turns being in charge of the whistle and they worked hard to keep the spring clean and beautiful.

But the spring they had discovered was in a cup of land surrounded by cliffs and eventually the spring began to fill up the cup, until after a while there was a little lake there with the top of the spring house standing out in the center like an island. And the lake kept getting higher and higher. After a few years the spring house was completely submerged and the dwarfs could no longer get down to it, although they could see it easily through the clear water and could still make the door open and close with the whistle, just the same as before.

The water in the lake began in time to fill up with creatures of its own, as water has a way of doing, and one of these creatures was a lovely little mermaid. The dwarfs named her Ardis and one of them made her a pretty doll out of linked stones with a trailing fern fastened to its head for hair. Ardis loved the doll very much and played with it all the time, and in exchange she promised to keep watch over the spring in the house of rocks, now far down under the water. So the dwarfs gave her the special whistle and she kept it hanging by a chain on a sharp bit of rock at the water's edge. Every morning she would blow the whistle to open the door and then she would dive down and play with her doll inside among the bubbles. At night she would come up and blow the whistle again to close the door, and swim away to sleep.

While all this was happening, the water in the lake had risen so high that it began to spill over in one spot where there was a V-shaped gap in the cliffs, and it tumbled down into the dry and dusty place ringed by the mountains. It fingered itself into a great many streams and watered the land so well that everything was soon green and fresh. Forests sprang up and woldwellers came there to watch over the trees. And then, later, the people began to arrive. They built towns and they crowned a king and they enjoyed a great many quarrels and troubles, all of which they created quite by themselves. The dwarfs withdrew deep under the mountains where they wouldn't have to watch and they went on mining and almost never came out. In time they separated into groups of two or three, each group mining where it chose, and they never lived all together again. The woldwellers, who were admired by the people for their knowledge, stayed in their trees and came down to answer questions from time to time, but after a while they grew irritated by the foolishness of these questions and wouldn't always answer. Eventually the people stopped coming to ask.

And something very sad happened to Ardis. One day, when she was in the spring house playing with her doll, she heard a new and pleasing kind of sound. She put down the doll and swam up to the top of the lake. There on the bank sat a man, the first she had ever seen, making pretty music on a round box with strings pulled tight across it. Ardis stayed to listen, hiding behind a water lily, with only her eyes and ears out of the water. After a while the man put the round box aside and, leaning over to drink from the lake, noticed the whistle hanging from its sharp bit of rock. He picked it up and blew through it, but he was only a man and couldn't hear the sound it made. As Ardis watched in dismay, he started to toss it away, paused, looked at it again, and finally hung it around his neck. Then he picked up his strange instrument and wandered off. She cried to him to come back, but he didn't hear.

Ardis dove trembling to the spring house, but the blast the man had blown on the whistle had made the door swing shut. The house was locked. Ardis could peer through the cracks between the rocks and see her doll lying inside, but there was no way to get it out. After that, she was sad all the time. At night she would swim up to the spot where the whistle had hung, and weep for hours. Someone heard her once and made a song about her, but no one could help her, for the dwarfs were far away.

And in the meantime, in the land below, towns were built and burned and built again and kings and their people lived and died and enjoyed their troubles for years and years and years. Ardis and the dwarfs and the woldwellers were largely forgotten except in stories and songs. Nobody believed they were real any more except for an occasional child or an even more occasional worker of evil, these being the only ones with imagination enough to admit to the possibility of something even more amazing in the world than those commonplace marvels which it spreads so carelessly before us every day.

Chapter Two

In his workroom at the top of the tower, DeCree, the Prime Minister, was pacing up and down. Occasionally he would pause, throw up his arms in a gesture of helplessness, and then resume his pacing. From her perch, his cockatoo watched with beady interest, turning her head this way and that as he crossed and recrossed before her.

"There will be civil war!" he burst out at last. "Splits, upheavals, and people taking sides! Smiles will be forgotten and spring will escape notice! Little flowers will push up, only to be trodden down, and birds will sing unheeded."

From a pile of cushions in a corner of the room, his Special Assistant, a skinny, pleasant boy of twelve named Gaylen, put down the book he had been reading and frowned. "Civil war?" he said. "But why? What happened?"

"It was like this," said the Prime Minister, climbing onto the stool at his desk. "I went down, you see, to show the King how far I've gone on my dictionary. He was pleased with the first part. He liked 'Affectionate is your dog' and 'Annoying is a loose boot in a muddy place' and so on, and he smiled at 'Bulky is a big bag of boxes.' As a matter of fact, there was no trouble with any of the A's or B's and the C's were fine too, especially 'Calamitous is saying no to the King.' But then we got to 'Delicious is fried fish' and he said no, I'd have to change that. He doesn't care for fried fish. The General of the Armies was standing there and he said that, as far as he was concerned, Delicious is a mug of beer, and the Queen said no, Delicious is a Christmas pudding, and then the King said nonsense, everyone knew the most delicious thing is an apple, and they all began quarreling. Not just the three of them-the whole court. When I left, they were all yelling and shouting and shaking their fists. The King and the General were glaring at each other, and the Queen was trying to get everyone to listen to the recipe for Christmas pudding."

"That doesn't sound like civil war to me," said Gaylen, turning back to his book with a smile. "It only sounds silly."

"Of course it's silly," said the Prime Minister impatiently. "But a lot of serious things start silly."

Gaylen put his book down again and sighed. "Why don't you just leave Delicious out of the dictionary?"

"I can't do that," said the Prime Minister. "If this is going to be a proper dictionary, I can't leave anything out."

At that moment there was a great racket in the courtyard below. Gaylen ran to the window and looked down. People were pouring out of the castle door to form a noisy ring around two men shoving each other about on the grass. After a moment, one knocked the other flat, shouted "Plums!" and strode triumphantly back inside, followed by the cheering crowd. The man who had been flattened swayed to his feet and went off: muttering.

The Prime Minister shook his head sadly. "Now here's a pretty kettle of fish," he said.

"Or apples," said Gaylen.

Chapter Three

Gaylen had lived in the castle ever since he'd been left, a tiny baby, gurgling in a basket at the main gate. The basket had been carried in to the King, who was very annoyed to see its contents.

"Now, by Harry," the King had said with a frown, "I suppose some silly mother thinks I'll adopt this baby and leave the kingdom to him when I die. Well, I won't do it. I expect to have a son of my own some day. Take this baby away and see if one of the kitchen maids will have it."

But the Prime Minister was hovering nearby and sprang forward when he heard what the King was saying. "Please, your Majesty, let me have the baby," he said. "I'll take good care of him, and I promise he'll never be a bother to you."

"Humph!" said the King. "What on earth do you want a baby for? Well, go ahead. Take it. Why not?" So the Prime Minister went joyfully off with the basket and the King promptly forgot all about it.

Now the truth is that DeCree was a very lonely man. He had never had a wife, and he lived all by himself in the castle tower. But it wasn't a wife he was lonely for, it was a child. He wanted a child so badly that it kept him awake thinking about it. And when he couldn't sleep, he got overtired and caught colds and went about snuffling, with his beard wrapped around his throat to keep it warm. It made him feel achy and wretched and when he went to advise the King on important matters, he would say things like "Dow thed" for "Now then," and "Dot eddy bore" for "Not any more." When he did this, the King would get cross, and that made the Prime Minister feel worse than ever.

But after the baby came to live with him in the tower, the Prime Minister slept nine hours every night without even snoring and he was never lonely again. So he named the baby Vaungaylen, which means "little healer." It was a very long name, so the baby was mostly called Gaylen for short, which suited him very well, and as soon as he was old enough, the Prime Minister taught him to read and write and made him Special Assistant. And if Gaylen came to believe that the world was a bright and flawless garden where no weeds grew, a garden in the center of which the castle tower rose high and watchful and serene, it was not to be wondered at. After all, he was cared for very tenderly, with never a wish ungratified, and he and the Prime Minister loved each other as much as any real father and son since time began.


Excerpted from The SEARCH for DELICIOUS by Natalie Babbitt Copyright © 1969 by Natalie Babbitt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Search for Delicious 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
ranger_maiden More than 1 year ago
Back in elementary school, my reading level was kind of freakishly high, so my mom bought me this book as a challenge. I absolutely loved the medieval/fantasy setting. The fact that Babbitt was able to base a whole book off of the definition of a word was extremely interesting and original. I think that this book made me the voracious reader that I am now...and when I let my younger sister read it 3-5 years later, it became the first book that she really loved (and we NEVER have the same taste in books!). A very cute book that's great for anyone who loves words.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book and i loved it! It just goes to show you the stupid things people can go to war for. Lighthearted fantasy that will keep you enteratained. Defenatly 5 stars!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This light-hearted book takes a young boy on a journey of a lifetime, only to found himself and where he belongs. It is also an eye-opener to the many little trival things we argue about everyday and there consequences. Is it really worth it, whether to be right or to gain power?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I must have read this book 40 times as a kid. Beautiful, sumptuous world, easy read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first read this book five years ago, in fifth grade. It is still one of my favorite books, as familiar to me as Alice in Wonderland is widely known. It's a book to read when you need to get caught up in a story to escape the world. It's short enough to read in a few hours, yet long enough to take you on a journey for delicious.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got it at my school library and really liked it. I DO NOTwant to be rude but it is not my favorite. I really like Natilie Babbitt
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I havent read the book yet but I was looking for this book forever! Also, plz read Kneeknock Rise I did it for a book report. I finished the book in an hour thats how awesome it was!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Funny story. It shows some stupid things people will go to war over, like some wars in the past.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a hooking pleasure about a young boy named Vaungaylen that runs into many adventures while finding the defintion of delicious for the Prime Minister's dictionary. It's definitely an exciting adventure itself that brings you on a journey through a whole new world!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is just fantastic. Filled with good, clean, keeping-you-rolling-on-the-floor humor, 'The Search For Delicious' will hold you enthralled to its wonderful end. I couldn't recommend this book high enough! If you're looking for something funny, you've found it!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. I liked the plot the characters and the whole idea of someone taking a poll on a whole kingdom. It was a really fun book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I definatly loved this book. It has so much imagination and a fun type of mystery.
SarahEHWilson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this for class in 6th grade when nearly everyone else was shedding their childish delights; I was embarrassed to say how much I loved it. I found it again, almost by accident, years later while browsing in Barnes & Noble, and recognized the cover before I recognized the title. It was even better than I remembered: gentle but urgent, magical and yet dealing with the most fundamental of human urges--thirst.
BoundTogetherForGood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ah...the search for delicious...what a lovely quest to embark upon.The bulk of this quest is carried out by Vaungaylen. Gaylen, as he is known, was left by is mother, in a basket, at the gates of the castle. He was quickly adopted by Prime Minister DeCree. The Prime Minister began work on a dictionary when Gaylen was twelve years old.The King was quite pleased with the Prime Minister's progress:A: "He liked 'Affectionate is your dog'."B: "Bulky is a big bag of boxes."C: "Calamitous is saying no to the King."D: "Delicious is fried fish."But, no, that didn't please the king.The King thought apples should be declared the most delicious.It didn't please anyone else either.The Queen thought Christmas pudding.The Queen's trouble-maker brother piped up that his vote was for nuts.The General stated that a mug of beer is delicious.Gaylen was asked to set out around the kingdom gathering everyone's votes as to the best definition for "delicious".In a land where "nothing" belongs to the people and the world is filled with mermaids, woldwellers, and dwarves, a minor story is interwoven in the main one.Our little one (age five) and I have been reading this book for many months. She found it so interesting that she was able to remember very minor details of the story from one reading to the next. Today as I was writing this review she reminded me that someone had clearly affirmed a preference for "beer" as being delicious. Given that, I can say that this book can be used as a read-aloud selection for children as young as probably age four, perhaps a precocious age three. The first time I read this book it was to our two younger boys who were nearing ages seven and eight.Natalie Babbitt also wrote Tuck Everlasting which I read in August 2007 and again in April 2008. I'm not much of a rereader of books and there isn't a lot of time between those two readings. The prose with which she wrote Tuck Everlasting really satisfied me and so I returned to it very soon. The Disney film adaptation of Tuck Everlasting is also very well done. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~My Review of Tuck Everylasting by Natalie Babbitt
theokester on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book as part of a "literary discussion group" for my 5th grader's class. Each week the kids got together and discussed the reading. They had weekly assignments as well as a "discussion worksheet" that they filled out to help promote discussion. It was pretty cool to see these fifth graders start down the path of analyzing and really thinking about the books they were reading. Tons of fun.As to the book, it's an entertaining read with some interesting themes and principles. The high level summary is that the prime minister in a kingdom is trying to write a dictionary for the kingdom. With each definition, he provides an example. He's reached the word "Delicious" and everybody has a different opinion as to what truly exemplifies the word....apples, nuts, pies, etc. So, the young hero Gaylen is sent out into the kindgom to take a survey of every citizen and determine, by majority, what is the most delicious. The disagreements within the castle prove to have just been a microcosm of the kingdom at large and it quickly becomes evident that there won't be any common consensus. Added to the "delicious" problem, we have a power hungry man riding around the country stirring up trouble in hopes of eventually getting the kingdom for himself.An intriguing parallel story thread starts with a prologue in which we're given definitions of mystical/magical creatures who still exist but have been forgotten or ignored by humans. We're presented the story of a mermaid named Ardis who had a magical key that opened and closed the door of a house at the bottom of a lake. The key was taken from her by a human and has been lost forever. Throughout Gaylen's journey across the kingdom, he learns more about these mythical beings and the part they may still play in the kingdom.Overall, this was a fun and entertaining story. It's a simple tale easily accessible to children. And yet it has some themes and ideas that could be engaging to adults as well. It makes a point of showing how silly some of our arguments become and how outrageous our behavior is. It touches on the concepts of the creativity and imagination that's often lost as we transition from youth to adult.This is a fun fairy tale that can be enjoyed together by parents and children.****3.5 out of 5 stars
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it so much! So creative and beautifully written! Highly reccomend!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is so many things and people have to remember be,ut other than that i love it. It is so interesting and detailed i recommend this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have not actually read this book yet but I just completed a similar one. From what I can tell the book is based off the meaning if the word word. A similar book, one I just completed, was called rump. Rump is about the meaning of a name basicaly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book. It is really good!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am reading this book in my guided reading class and it is good but seriously they are fighting over the defonition of the word delicious. The other people who are reading this in my guided reading group are, Jack , Ava, Nicolas, and Greg. Also these are prople including myself who go to Eisenhower Elementary , Camp Hill PA
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