The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories
by Joan Aiken
Recommended Ages 9-12
Thanks goes to our wonderful children's librarian who steered me to this utterly delightful series of short stories. Although many of the stories in Joan Aiken's The Serial Garden were originally published over fifty years ago, they were completely new to me. It's hard to believe I never discovered them before, and I'm sorry that my children (who are now teenagers) never had the pleasure of hearing them read aloud.
The Armitages are an English family in the 1950's who live a rather magical life. It all starts when Mrs. Armitage muses to Mr. Armitage on their honeymoon that she's worried that living happily ever after could be a bit boring. Serendipitously she finds a wishing stone and makes a wish that things won't be dull, and that interesting and unusual things will happen to them, perhaps on Mondays, but not always Mondays (because that could get boring too). She also wishes that her future children will have a fairy godmother. And that their house will have at least one ghost. Right then and there, the stories are born.
Fast forward twelve years or so, and you meet Harriet and Mark, their two plucky children who manage to handle all that comes their way with grace and humor. There are witches and unicorns and best friends who are six inches tall. Things often go awry, and yet these two continue on, seemingly unperturbed by the chaos that surrounds them. They are curious and fearless, whether they are encountering druid brothers fighting over a bathmat made of human hair, or magical gardens that grow out of cereal boxes. In one story, an invisibility cloak is even mentioned, and these were written years before Harry Potter came on the scene.
The stories are imaginative and well written, with surprise twists and turns on almost every page. Children who are avid readers will delight in visiting the world that Aiken has created. But, even more importantly, I think this would be a wonderful read aloud book for reluctant readers. Parents could read a story a night to a child, or teachers could read a story a day to a class. It's a classic example of great storytelling and begs to be read aloud. This is one book I think every family should own!