Something a little different this week. My Mystery Monday selection is a book for junior aged children and is the first book in a set of five called The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I’ll be featuring each of these books in their order this week as they make great summer reading. Here is the first, Over Sea, Under Stone.
This series involves myth and magic centered around King Arthur and the struggle between good and evil, or the Light and the Dark. In this first novel, we meet Barney Drew, his brother Simon and his sister Jane who are on vacation in Cornwall in the south of England. Staying in the home of an old sea captain, rented for them by their mysterious Great-Uncle Merry, the children are soon exploring the house and discover an old map that they are certain will lead them to the Holy Grail. In this excerpt, we meet Barney, the youngest of the Drew family, as he gets caught up in both excitement and danger:
Satisfied, Barney went off to find the carnival. . . He made one or two false turns, losing the sound. Then gradually the band grew louder, and with it he began to hear the hum of voices and the rasping shuffle of feet. He snapped his fingers to Rufus, and broke into a trot, swinging from one quiet deserted little alley into the next. And then suddenly the noise burst on him like a storm, and he was out of the muffling narrow street and among the crowds, out in the sunshine filling a broad road where the procession jogged and danced by . . .
It was like nothing he had ever seen before. The dancers whirled in and out of the crowd on the edge of the street where he stood; and then suddenly, before Barney knew what was happening, they were dancing around him.
He felt someone catch at his hand, and he was drawn out into the centre of the dancing crowd, among the ribbons and feathers and bright bobbing heads, so that his feet fell into step with the rest.
Breathless, grinning, he glanced up. The black-gloved hand holding one of his own belonged to the figure of the cat, twirling in the skin-close black tights with a long black tail swinging out behind, and whiskers bristling long and straight from the head-mask fitting over the cheeks. He saw the eyes glint through the slits, and the teeth flash. . . and Barney, giddy with the music and the speed and the twisting black limbs of the cat before his eyes, flung himself laughing round where it swung him. . .
Until he came up with a sudden halt against the long white robes of a figure dressed as an Arab sheikh, moving with the rest so that the robes were swung wide and billowing by the breeze. And glancing up through a world swaying with his own giddiness, Barney had time only to glimpse a slim figure and a dark-skinned lean face, before the cat swung him by the hands straight into the out-swung, muffling folds of the man’s white robes. . . and Barney felt himself being carried away.
This book is thoroughly captivating (as is the whole series, although some of the other ones have a rather darker theme). I used to read it to my students from grade 3 to 5 (older children, even many juniors, can read it for themselves), and I would get calls from parents wanting the names of the other books in the series as their children were asking for them for Christmas or for summer reading. It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement and energy of the children as they face dangers and people who will stop at nothing to take the map and find its treasure for themselves. I’ll be reviewing the next 4 books in this series as well, one a day all week. Terrific summer reading, or reading anytime, even for adults. I enjoyed reading it again. • • • • •