Title of the work
Country of the First Edition
Country/countries of popularity
First Edition Date
First Edition Details
Cynthia Voigt, Homecoming. New York, NY: Atheneum, 1981, 388 pp.
We are still trying to obtain permission for posting the original cover.
Author of the Entry:
Sarah F. Layzell, University of Cambridge, sarahlayzellhardstaff@gmail.
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Susan Deacy, University of Roehampton, email@example.com
Lisa Maurice, Bar-Ilan University, firstname.lastname@example.org
, b. 1942
Cynthia Voigt is an American author best known for the Tillerman family novels. She is the author of 33 books for children and young people, and two books for adults, spanning a range of genres and audiences. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Voigt graduated from Smith College in 1963 and later became a secondary school English teacher. Her novels have won numerous awards, including the prestigious Newbery Medal for Dicey’s Song in 1983. The first Tillerman novel, Homecoming, was nominated for a National Book Award in 1982.
Official Website (accessed: 04 September, 2019).
Bio prepared by Sarah Hardstaff, University of Cambridge, email@example.com
Homecoming was adapted as a 1996 made-for-television movie, directed by Mark Jean.
Chinese: Hui jia, You shi, 2004.
Dutch: Onder de blote hemel, transl. M Slagt-Prins, Querido, 1985.
French: C’est encore loin, la maison?, transl. Rose-Marie Vassallo, Flammarion, 1993.
German: Heimwärts, transl. Matthias Duderstadt, Bertelsmann, 1992.
Spanish: Los Tillerman encuentran hogar, transl. Anna Benet, Noguer y Caralt, 1995.
Swedish: Den långa vägen hem, transl. Rose-Marie Nielsen, Bonniers juniorförl, 1983.
Sequels, Prequels and Spin-offs
The other titles in the Tillerman Cycle are:
- Dicey’s Song (1982),
- A Solitary Blue (1983),
- The Runner (1985),
- Come A Stranger (1986),
- Sons From Afar (1987) and
- Seventeen Against the Dealer (1989).
Homecoming tells the story of four siblings – Dicey, James, Maybeth and Sammy Tillerman – who are abandoned by their mother (their father had already abandoned the family some years before). Led by the eldest, Dicey, the children make their way mostly on foot down the east coast of the United States. They come across a range of settings and characters with both realist and archetypal features including: runaway teenagers in the woods, students on a university campus, their bland cousin Eunice and her stifling home, a farmer called Rudyard who tries to capture them, and a circus where the children live and work for circus owner Will. Along the journey, the main characteristics of each children are revealed: Dicey’s determination, James’s intelligence, Maybeth’s slow and gentle nature, and Sammy’s aggression and charm. Eventually the children arrive at their mother’s hometown and must convince their grandmother Abigail that she should let them live with her on her farm in Crisfield, Maryland. As the novel ends, the children have started school and are starting to settle in at their grandmother’s home.
Homecoming is a story of child abandonment, resilience and relationships that, in typical Voigt style, raises more questions than answers. The four Tillerman children, led by Dicey, must navigate not only the physical space between them and their destination but also the challenges faced by children in an adult-led world, and the tensions between individuals, communities and society.
On the surface, Homecoming is a realist novel that explores the survival of the Tillermans in the face of threats such as family separation, hunger and hopelessness. Yet there are also significant overlaps between Voigt’s story and three of the most influential stories in Western children’s literature: Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, the “Hansel and Gretel” folktale collected by the Brothers Grimm, and Homer’s Odyssey.
First, the novel follows a pattern of characters striving to survive after abandonment or exile that has been traced back to Robinson Crusoe and gives its name to the ‘Robinsonade’ genre (see Nikolajeva 2002, 82). Voigt amplifies the connection with Crusoe by focusing on mundane details of everyday tasks and trials, as well as emphasising the isolation that the children feel.
Second, Homecoming explicitly references the story “Hansel and Gretel” (Voigt 1981, 4), hinting at the children’s vulnerability as well as their determination to find their way. Recalling “Hansel and Gretel” also highlights the timelessness of the story – there have always been hungry children and cruel adults. However, Voigt and her characters question the ‘good mother’/’bad mother’ binary established by the Grimms, both in discussions about the Tillermans’ mother and in the portrayal of their grandmother, Abigail. While Abigail has been read as the story’s ‘witch’ (Henke 1985, 48), this reading underplays the lasting security that she is able to offer the children.
Finally, Homecoming, like many other examples of children’s literature with the journey or quest theme, follows patterns found in the Odyssey. As well as the novel’s main theme of returning home, albeit to a home that belonged to their mother rather than the children themselves, there are also parallels in the story’s plot and motifs. The children face many trials and meet both helpers and hinderers along the way, at times becoming stuck in certain places or situations longer than they had intended. Furthermore, there are near-constant references to the sea, despite most of the story taking place on land. The importance of the sea is related to characterisation as much as setting: for example, Dicey’s father is a merchant seaman and her greatest desire is to have her own sailboat.
At least one critic has taken a rather more literal view of the overlap between Homecoming and the Odyssey. James Henke claims that Dicey’s name is a stand-in for Odysseus and finds further parallels in encounters with other characters and settings: the security guard whom Dicey outwits (Polyphemus), the teenage runaways at Rockland Park (the Lotus-eaters), Windy (Aeolus), Eunice and Aunt Cilla’s house (Scylla), the circus (Circe), and finally, the grandmother whose affection the children must win in a series of tasks (Penelope) (1985, 48-51).
Some of these pairings are less convincing – the children are not harmed or entrapped by the circus in any meaningful way or for a long period of time, for example, weakening the comparison with Circe. However, others are more compelling and may indeed be evident to a young adult reader who is familiar with classics: the Rockland Park teens talk about how they “pluck the lotus” (Voigt 1981, 75), for example, and Windy acts in the role of Aeolus, keeper of the winds, by arranging transport to help the Tillermans hasten their journey. In addition, one of the young children is caught stealing from Windy’s roommate, echoing the incident in which Odysseus’s crew steal the bag containing rough winds and unwittingly unleash them (see also Henke 1985, 49–50). Overall, Homecoming’s classical references go beyond the use of an archetypal plot and add further layers of complexity and intertextuality to this celebrated young adult novel.
Clark, Dorothy G., “Edging toward Bethlehem: Rewriting the Myth of Childhood in Voigt’s Homecoming”, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 25.4 (2000): 191–202.
Fraustino, Lisa Rowe, “Abandoning Mothers”, in Lisa Rowe Fraustino and Karen Coats, eds, Mothers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature: From the Eighteenth Century to Postfeminism, Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2016, 216–232.
Greenway, Betty, ““Every Mother’s Dream”: Cynthia Voigt’s Orphans”, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 1991 Proceedings (1991): 127–131.
Hardstaff, Sarah, “From the Gingerbread House to the Cornucopia: Gastronomic Utopia as Social Critique in Homecoming and The Hunger Games”, The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature, 19.1 (2016), available at lib.latrobe.edu.au (accessed: August 5, 2019).
Hardstaff, Sarah, “Economies of Childness in Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming”, Children’s Literature in Education 50.1 (2019): 47–59.
Henke, James T., “Dicey, Odysseus, and Hansel and Gretel: The Lost Children in Voigt’s Homecoming”, Children’s Literature in Education 16 (1985): 45–52.
Hoffman, Mary, “Growing Up: A Survey”, Children’s Literature in Education 15.3 (1984): 171–185.
Hylton, Jaime, “Exploring the ‘Academic Side’ of Cynthia Voigt”, The ALAN Review 33.1 (Fall 2005).
Nikolajeva, Maria, The Rhetoric of Character in Children’s Literature, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2002.
Pearce, Elizabeth A., Limitation, Subversion, and Agency: Gendered Spaces in the Works of Margaret Mahy, Cynthia Voigt, and Diana Wynne Jones, unpublished PhD dissertation, Illinois State University, 2014.
Pearson, Lucy, “Family, Identity and Nationhood: Family Stories in Anglo-American Children’s Literature, 1930–2000”, in Catherine Butler and Kimberley Reynolds, eds., Modern Children’s Literature: An Introduction, London: Palgrave, 2nd edition, 2014, 89–104.
Reid, Susan E., Presenting Cynthia Voigt, New York, NY: Twayne Publishers, 1995.
Watson, Victor, “The Tillerman Series”, in Margaret Meek and Victor Watson, eds., Coming of Age in Children’s Literature: Growth and Maturity in the Work of Philippa Pearce, Cynthia Voigt and Jan Mark, London: Continuum, 2003, 85–124.
Wolf, Virginia L., “The Linear Image: The Road and the River in Children’s Literature”, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 1986 Proceedings, (1986): 41–47.