Saturday, December 02, 2006

Forgotten Bookshelf: A Necklace of Raindrops

A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Knopf. $5.50.

Oh, is there anything more succulent than a collection of Joan Aiken short stories? I don't think so. This collection, originally published in 1968, is one of the best examples of that most gossamer of genres, the bedside tale. Here Aiken has strung together eight little gems of stories, and each one shines with just the perfect combination of whimsy, humor, and wonder that is the hallmark of the best children's literature. One of the many reasons I became a children's librarian was so I could find out about all the good books I had missed reading as a child, and pass them on to my kids. For me, A Necklace of Raindrops is exactly that kind of book.

Aiken's stories have a timeless, folkloric quality tinged with contemporary motifs. "The Cat Sat on the Mat" concerns a schoolbus-dwelling family who recieve kindness from a fairy; "There's Some Sky in This Pie" is a silly story about people and animals riding a flying pie all over the world, searching for a parking spot. Characters from books spring from their pages to play with lonely children in "The Elves in the Shelves" (a great name for a children's bookstore if ever there was one), and lonely train engineers find happiness where they least expect it in "The Three Travelers." My favorite of the bunch is the title story, which concerns a magical necklace that can control water and rain -- it's just the kind of tale I would have feasted on as a child.

Many of the stories contain bits of poetry or songs that are repeated over and over, in the grand tradition of oral storytelling. This volume would be perfect for reading aloud, although the language is simple and lyrical enough for readers new to the world of chapter books. A shimmering little treat for anyone who wants a good mind-ride at bedtime, breakfast time, anytime.

Knopf brought this book back into print back in 2001, and is still available in paperback (although it's easy to pick up a used hardback online).

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