The four Grant children: Peter, Sheila, Humphrey, and Sandy (Alexandra) live in an English town next to the ocean and near a seaside resort town, Radcliff, where they seldom go in the tourist season. But one day Peter, the oldest, has to go there on his own by bus for a dentist appointment, and afterwards he wanders into a dark, narrow street he’s never seen before and enters a little shop, where a model ship in the window has caught his eye. The proprietor, an old man with an eye patch, offers to sell the marvelous Viking-style carved wooden ship for “all the money you have and a bit over.” Peter gives the man every coin he has, which includes tuppence he owes his father, and the boat goes carefully into his pocket. Peter no longer has bus fare, so he decides to cut across the sandy bay to get home, but he’s caught by the tide, and wishes he could get home. He feels movement in his pocket, takes the ship out, and it grows large enough for him to step inside. Then it slowly and majestically flies out of the bay and brings Peter to his own lawn. Delighted, Peter steps out, and the ship shrinks back to pocket size. Soon all four children are having adventures on the ship, which can grow to any size needed and travel in time as well as space. It not only takes them to Egypt of their time, but to visit ancient Egypt, the Viking gods, and England’s own past.
I liked this book when I first read it, and it holds up pretty well, but is not as interesting as the best books of E. Nesbit, which were clearly the model, and the children are not as interesting as Nesbit’s children. For me the best part is when they bring a princess they meet in the time of William the Conqueror back to their present time in the ship, and see how she reacts to their own 1930s England (the book was first published in 1939). The illustrations by Nora Lavrin are somewhat like those of Pauline Baynes, but not as good. Still, an enjoyable story and available in a recent reprint.