Rereading: THE SECRET PENCIL by Patricia Ward

© Patricia Ward, cover illustration by Paul Galdone.

I read a ton of childrens books in my own childhood, and from time to time I come across one that seems only vaguely familiar. That’s the case with this one, found at a recent sale. As soon as I saw the cover I knew I’d read and liked it, but nothing more. It made comforting reading during our recent storm evacuation.

Anna and her brothers have gone for their annual summer stay with their uncle on the coast of Wales, a happy time of sailing, beachcombing, pony riding and more, but on the very first day, Anna finds herself alone on the beach. She enters a cave that had always frightened her, but this year she feels a little braver, and is rewarded with something found in the rocky walls. Blackened with age, she sees it’s a pencil with an amethyst stone set in the top, and on returning home, she cleans it up, finding it’s made of silver. Anna decides to write something with it, and that’s when the magic begins.

The pencil takes on a life of its own when put to paper, and soon is having a written/spoken dialogue with the young girl. It’s a feisty thing, challenging her, yet also leading her into action with a series of mysterious commands and advice. Before long, Anna is doing things like hunting for treasure and rescuing a boy caught out in the rocks on a rising tide. The boy, Phllippe, a French Canadian, soon becomes a good friend and shares her secret.

I won’t give too much away by saying there’s a ghost involved, one with a strong interest in this house and family, as is gradually revealed. Further storylines bring in other characters with long and colorful pasts that are tied into the family in surprising ways, and there are lots of exciting adventures for the entire family, often begun by something the secret pencil has told Anna.

Well written and a great read. If you can find this book, I highly recommend it. The original British title was “The Silver Pencil.” It’s the only book I can find by the author, and doesn’t seem to have ever been reprinted in paperback. Original publication date of the US edition is 1959.

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