Category Archives: Books

Rereading: THE PRIVATE WORLDS OF JULIA REDFERN by Eleanor Cameron

Cover art by Trina Schart Hyman

The fifth and final book of Cameron’s Julia Redfern series, both chronologically and as written, published in 1988 and her last novel for young readers, though she continued to write reviews and essays for a few more years.

Julia is now about fifteen, in high school, and her life is full of drama, both as an actress in school, and with her friends and relatives. At home, Julia has still not really accepted her stepfather Phil, though she knows he’s a good man who her mother loves, and that causes tension. She often escapes to spend time with her elderly friend Rhiannon Moore, formerly a next-door neighbor. Rhiannon has her own troubles, especially a nasty, nosy sister who won’t leave her alone, and covets her belongings.

At school, the drama club’s yearly play is Romeo and Juliet, and while Julia hopes to be Juliet, it goes to a rival. Meanwhile, a romance is developing with John, who will play Romeo. And then there’s the shock of seeing her married Uncle Hugh with an old flame in their private corner of the park. Everything in Julia’s life is in turmoil, and grown-up situations are pushing into her life in uncomfortable ways.

Highly recommended.

The Private Worlds of Julia Redfern by Eleanor Cameron

Rereading: TICKTOCK AND JIM, DEPUTY SHERIFFS by Keith Robertson

Cover and illustrations by Everett Stahl

A sequel to Ticktock and Jim, about a boy and his western horse in middle America in the late 1940s. Jim and Ticktock have a delivery business and a strong friendship. In this book, Jim has a new neighbor, Larry, who moved from the city to the small country town of Springdale. Larry has been ill, and his grandparents think country life will help him regain his strength. Friendship with Jim and Ticktock helps, and soon the boys are on the trail of possible freight hijackers. Playing detective, the pair soon get into serious trouble when they’re caught by the hijackers, and Ticktock is carried away in one of their trucks to be disposed of. But readers can expect the smart, brave horse might have other ideas, even when one of the hijackers wants to shoot him.

Great fun, exciting and full of surprising events and great characters in this second of Robertson’s many fine books for young readers. Recommended.

Ticktock and Jim Deputy Sheriffs by Keith Robertson

Rereading: TICKTOCK AND JIM by Keith Robertson

Keith Robertson’s first novel for young readers, published in 1948, shows writing skill and appeal that would carry through his long career. He was particularly lucky in being paired with illustrator Wesley Dennis, best known for illustrating the books of Marguerite Henry like “Misty of Chincoteague,” out the year before this, as Dennis’s horses and people depictions are excellent.

Jim Meadows is sorry to have to stay home on the farm one summer day when his parents and sister Jean go to town for ice cream, but his regret is soon turned to joy. A traveling horse trader comes by, and Jim spots a skinny, unkempt cow pony that he thinks would make a great riding horse and friend. He convinces the horse trader to exchange him for his gold pocket watch, a family heirloom given to him on his last birthday. Jim knows his father won’t be happy about the trade, but Jim is delighted with his new horse, who he names Ticktock in honor of the watch.

Mr. Meadows is angry when he finds out what happened, but sister Jean and Mrs. Meadows are more sympathetic. Over the next few weeks, Jim and Ticktock become fast friends as the boy grooms, cares for, and feeds his pony back to health, and learns to ride him. Mr. Meadows allows the horse to stay for the time being, but threatens to get rid of him in the fall rather than feed him all winter, so Jim has to come up with ways to raise money. He starts a new business he calls The Pony Express Inc. to deliver messages and packages, and herd animals to his town’s livestock auction. When he and Ticktock discover a perfect hideout in the woods, things couldn’t be better, but everything in their lives is turned upside down when Ticktock is stolen by a man running from the law. Jim despairs of ever seeing his best friend again.

Great read, full of excitement, appealing characters, enterprise, and wisdom about horses and people. Highly recommended.

Ticktock and Jim by Keith Robertson

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

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