Sometimes it’s a dicey proposition, going back to books you loved when you were a child. In some cases, you find that whatever magic they had is now gone: there’s not enough plot, the dialogue is tinny, the book is sexist or racist, there’s too much you can’t overlook. Sometimes you just can’t see why you loved it so much.
Absolutely the opposite is true of Shadows and Moonshine, a collection of Joan Aiken’s outstanding stories for children. The stories come from several different books of hers I read as a child when I was in England (she is more popular there than she is here, I think), and each one was literally enchanting. The stories are profoundly satisfying in the best possible way: they tell about the inevitable truth of prophecy (though never in the way you think), the strength of those who look weak, and the importance of kindness and good cooking. There are princes, witches, mermaids, enchanted pigs, wolves, and ghosts, and I recognized each one as an old friend. I think my favorite story was “Moonshine in the Mustard Pot,” in which bees and poetry play a central role.
For those of you who love Joan Aiken already, you’ll be as excited as I was to hear that they’re coming out with a collection of all of her Armitage family stories. (October! I pre-ordered!) If you don’t know Joan Aiken yet, pick up any of her children’s books — short stories or novels, it doesn’t matter — or her fine adult novels. She ranges brilliantly from the tender to the creepy to the funny, and never fails to weave a spell that hasn’t worn off for me in twenty-plus years.