From an early age, many children learn that time is precious, before growing into adults who see it as a commodity to be managed at all costs. But literature for young readers often handles the concept with a greater sense of imagination and possibility. In Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved novel A Wrinkle in Time—whose long-awaited film adaptation hit theaters Friday—time can be bent (or tessered) to allow mortals to travel the universe at great speeds. In other childhood tales, time is a barrier to be broken, or a hidden door to another world. But what if the seconds, minutes, and hours of the day could be stolen away? And what if everyone was too busy to notice?
That’s the premise of the strange but beautiful children’s fantasy novel Momo, which was published 45 years ago. Americans might be more familiar with the tale’s German author, Michael Ende, via his book The Neverending Story, which was made into the cult 1984 film of the same name. Though it never attained name recognition in the United States, Momo is a classic in Ende’s home country and in much of Europe. And it is, in many ways, a fitting companion to L’Engle’s novel. For one, A Wrinkle in Time and Momo both feature memorably drawn young heroines who are pulled into fantastical, time-bending conflicts. But on a deeper level, the two novels are unapologetically humanist works that teach children to nurture the kind of quiet, crucial power that comes from being different, and from understanding what adults very often cannot.