Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken

I first read Joan Aiken's book Armitage, Armitage Fly Away Home when I was a kid, and I own a copy. It's a collection of stories about the Armitage family, to which odd things happen on Mondays (and sometimes on other days). They're very funny, sometimes poignant, always entertaining. I had no idea there were more stories than the ones I had read and reread in Armitage, Armitage.

The Serial Garden collects them all, including four new ones--24 stories in all. They're all a lot of fun, even if some of them leave the reader with more questions than answers (although sometimes Aiken answers some of the questions in later stories).

One thing I noticed is the change in tone from the earliest stories, written when Aiken was in her teens, to the latest ones, written when she was in her late 70s (she died in 2004). The early stories are fun nonsense, silly and merry; bad things happen, but everything comes out right in the end. They remind me a little of Aiken's Arabel and Mortimer stories (which I also love). However, the last stories have a more somber feel. Sad things happen and stay happened--in one story, for instance, someone dies, which really shocked me (not one of the Armitages, I hasten to add). The next to last story in the anthology, "Don't Go Fishing on Witches' Day," is a poignant story of loss and aging that moved me to tears.

But the last story, "Milo's New Word," provides the Armitage children Mark and Harriet with a baby brother, Milo, who picks up the phone at the wrong time and ends up turned into a elephant calf. It's a return to the madcap fun of the earlier stories, and a perfect way to end the book.

B&N link, or order direct from the publisher Small Beer Press (with free shipping in the U.S.)

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