Imagine having a pet raven. A talking raven, indeed, even if the only word he says is “Nevermore!” In Arabel’s Raven and several sequels, Mortimer takes up residence with the Jones family, answers the telephone and munches the stairs, unmasks a pair of jewel thieves and generally causes chaos in a well-meaning way, perfectly captured by Quentin Blake’s irrepressible illustrations. Unlike many recent series for beginner readers, Arabel’s Raven combines easy-to-read text with fabulously imaginative, unpredictable plots and humour. A small classic.
Newly confident and imaginative readers will enjoy A Necklace of Raindrops and The Kingdom Under the Sea, two delightful collections of short stories, with exquisite silhouette illustrations by Jan Piénkowski. Recently reissued in hardback, they’re also a joy to read aloud.
For confident readers of 8+, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase kick-starts a series of richly imagined alternative histories of the late eighteenth century, featuring feisty heroines and chilling villains in a power struggle which grows in complexity without ever losing pace or poignancy.
Some of Joan’s books for older readers are currently out of print, but well worth looking out for in libraries: she wrote a gripping mystery set in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, Midnight is a Place, an evocative trilogy set between nineteenth-century Spain and England, and some memorably spooky story collections for young adult readers. Joan Aiken published over 100 books for children (find out more about them at http://joanaiken.com). She died in 2004.