Rereading: THE SPELLCOATS by Diana Wynne Jones

Cover art by Geoff Taylor

The third book of the Dalemark quartet focuses on a family living in the riverside town of Shelling, and it’s narrated or “woven” by the younger daughter Tanaqui. The family’s mother has passed, and their father works hard to support his children, the eldest son Gull, older daughter Robin, second son Hern, and youngest son Duck. Then news comes of a war with invaders, and father and Gull are conscripted to fight. Father does not return from the war, and Gull comes back broken in mind. Somehow everyone blames Tanaqui’s family for their troubles, and when the river floods, they must pack their sailing boat and take to the raging flood to escape the anger of their neighbors.

Many strange things happen to the family on their travels. They find unexpected help, and also new enemies by the time they reach the sea, where a powerful mage, Kankredin, is trying to destroy the very river itself. They also meet the leaders of their own people and the invaders, and all those factions seem to know that Tanaqui and her family possess great power they don’t even understand themselves. But can it be used to save the people and the river from the spells of Kankredin?

These stories are among my favorites by Jones, first because they are full of surprises and wonderful ideas and characters, and second because the magic in them is subtle at first, and then is gradually revealed in its full power and importance. Recommended.

The Spellcoats by Diana Wynne Jones

Incoming: FABLES DELUXE EDITION BOOK 16

I think my favorite long series that I worked on after SANDMAN is FABLES, and over the last few years, the band got back together to produce a new 12-issue storyline that I thought was as good as anything that came before it. That story is now out in a deluxe hardcover, which looks great. I don’t think you need to have read all the previous stories to enjoy this one, but that would deepen the experience. Retail price is $39.99, and it’s due for release on May 21, 2024. Check with your comics retailer, or you can order it on Amazon at the link.

Fables Deluxe Edition Book 16

Rereading: A ROOM MADE OF WINDOWS by Eleanor Cameron

This is the fourth Julia Redfern book chronologically, but the first published, in 1971. Julia’s childhood is somewhat autobiographical, the author also grew up in Berkeley, CA in the 1910s-1920s, and many characters and incidents are probably based on her own memories.

Julia, her mother, and her brother Greg are living in an upstairs apartment that they love. Julia’s room is one she particularly adores. Intended as a sun room, it’s lined with windows, and has a small balcony overlooking the yard and garden. Julia has discovered a passion for writing, perhaps inherited from her deceased father, and she keeps a journal of unusual events called “Strangeness,” as well as writing stories that she submits to the local paper. Neighbors play a strong role in the book, next door is an elderly woman living alone, Rhiannon Moore, who Julia hears often playing her piano. They meet one night outside when both have mail to put in the post box, and Julia is threatened by another drunken neighbor, Mr. Kellerman, father of her friends Addie and Ken. Mrs. Moore protects Julia, and they become friends. Other neighbors also figure importantly: another renter at the house, the elderly Daddy Chandler, also intent on writing, who Julia loves to tease, and their landlady, Mrs. de Rizzio, who watches out for the children when their mother is at work.

Julia’s biggest challenge is a new development for her mother, a romance with her boss, who they know as Uncle Phil, and who tries his best to be their friend. Julia sees what’s happening, suspects he wants to marry her mother and move the family to the new house he’s building in the hills, and she wants none of it, making her mother miserable.

There are more twists and turns and characters in this wonderful book, which has many aspects, including the development of a young writer in Julia, her growth as a person, the effects of aging, a love of animals, mysteries, elements of the supernatural, and Berkeley of the 1920s brought vividly to life. This is perhaps Cameron’s best book, it won a U.S. National Book Award, and is highly recommended. You don’t need to have read the other Julia Redfern books to enjoy it, but they add depth to the overall story.

A Room Made of Windows by Eleanor Cameron

Rereading: FREDDY RIDES AGAIN by Walter R. Brooks

Perhaps feeling he had more to say on the subject, Brooks continues with the themes of the previous book, Freddy the Cowboy. Freddy’s new friend, Cy the cow pony, who taught him to ride, now gives lessons to other animals on the Bean Farm in this eighteenth book in the series. This time trouble comes from a new rich banker and his family who have moved into a neighboring farm. Mr. Margarine, his wife, and his son Billy are avid fox hunters, and while they’re no match for John, the local fox, they create havoc for the farmers, including Mr. Bean, by riding through crops and farmyards with their hounds. When Freddy tries to stop him, Margarine’s hot temper leads to a vendetta against Freddy that puts him in danger of being shot. Even help from his friends on the farm and in town can’t keep Freddy and Cy safe from the angry Margarine, whose free hand with cash allows him to get away with a lot of bad behavior. What can they do to stop him?

As always, funny, wise, exciting adventures that are entertaining and recommended.

Freddy Rides Again by Walter R Brooks

Rereading: THE SHY STEGOSAURUS OF INDIAN SPRINGS by Elelyn Sibley Lampman

While this is a sequel to “The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek,” it has a different feel because the main viewpoint character is a Native American boy.

Huck lives with his grandfather Opalo, a former medicine man of his tribe, in a lonely, run-down shack on their southwest desert reservation. Opalo prefers to live alone and keep the old ways, but age is causing him problems, and Huck is not yet strong enough to do everything needed as well as they would like. Plus, Huck now goes away to school much of the year, so must catch up on all the chores and repairs in summer. At the nearby hot springs, he meets George, the Shy Stegosaurus, who decides Huck is even less intelligent than himself, and needs protection. Soon, Huck also meets the twins, Joan and Joey, who are staying at a nearby summer resort. They’ve already had adventures with George, and are happy to reconnect with him.

Huck is often teased and bullied about his grandfather’s strange ways, and trouble for him begins when he tries to use George as a monster to scare away his tormenters. That fails, when George refuses to show himself to strangers. Soon, Ocala’s way of life is threatened when the reservation chief decides he’s getting too old to live alone, and must be placed with a family in the village. Huck and his new friends are looking forward to an upcoming festival where the tribe will gather for ceremonies, games, and feasting, and George wants to go too, but how? Unlike the hot springs, surrounded by rocky cliffs where he blends in, the festival is out in open fields. But George is determined, and soon is causing more trouble for his three friends.

Entertaining and appealing, the illustrations by Paul Galdone are a fine addition. Recommended.

The Shy Stegosaurus of Indian Springs by Evelyn Sibley Lampman