The Midnight Folk
by John Masefield
The setting itself is the stuff of fantasy magic, especially for American readers whose reality contains nothing like the 19th-century English tradition of boys being raised by household servants and educated by governesses while their parents or guardians were God knows where. That's the situation in which an adorable little boy named Kay Harker finds himself. And what makes it tons worse is that his governess is a witch.
She is, in fact, the queen witch of a seven-witch coven, which in turn is part of a seven-coven circle of evil in search of a long-lost treasure. Kay's great-grandfather was a merchant captain entrusted with the silver, gold, and jewels of Santa Barbara, back in the days of Napoleon. But mutiny, shipwreck, and other intrigues got in the way, and now it falls to Kay to clear his family name of the mysterious and suspicious disappearance of the Santa Barbara treasure. Only the witches are hoping to get to it first.
Kay isn't all on his own, though. He has a lot of help from talking animals, including the black cat Nibbins, the fox Bitem, the owl Blinky, a "cellarman" rat, an otter, a water rat, a bat, and an army of living toys. Not to mention portraits that come alive and that you can go inside of, a network of secret passages, a flying horse, and the weird and wonderful midnight meanderings that always seem to be more than dreams.
Together with his friends, Kay steadily unravels the twisty mystery of what happened to the Santa Barbara treasure, and all the nefarious people who tried to get it for themselves. Also he hunts for buried treasure, eludes enemies that want to turn him into a tomtit, teaches a lesson to a couple of sneaking cats, learns to fly like a bat and swim like an otter, becomes invisible, and makes a frightful mess of his pajamas. And his adventures explain why some boys never seem to be on time for meals.
This classic tale of magic, penned by a sometime poet laureate of England, comes highly recommended-- by Madeleine L'Engle, Edward Eager, and Diana Wynne Jones, to name a few authors who have praised this book or its companion, The Box of Delights, as a "must read" for the young and young at heart. And I second their recommendation. Sadly, it is out of print at this time, but take heart. It is abundantly available in libraries and from used book dealers, so if you try to find it, you shouldn't have much difficulty.
Recommended Age: 10+
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