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4.8 out of 5 stars
Arabel's Raven (Arabel and Mortimer)
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format: Library Binding
When you are feeling bored with life and cannot think of anything else to do, ask your nearest and dearest friends and relations to recommend their favorite books from when they were young. You're bound to be amazed by the insight you receive when you find out that your dreamy peculiar friend loved "The Giving Tree" while your uptight straight-as-a-rod neighbor was a fan of "Mertle the Turtle". I was once asking a friend of mine what book he best preferred when he mentioned "Arabel's Raven" by Joan Aiken. I'd heard of Ms. Aiken before, of course. The author of that magnificent "Wolves of Willoughby Chase", Aiken was the gothic queen of her day. But a quick glance at the cover of "Arabel's Raven" shows she had a lighter sillier side as well. Illustrated by an illustrator best known, perhaps, for his Roald Dahl books, Quentin Blake adds his distinctive style to this book about a girl and her perpetually voracious and curious raven.

Mr. Jones, we are told right off the bat, was a respectable taxi driver. And had he not been sideswiped by two maniacs on a motorcycle, he might never have noticed them hit a small black object that was attempting to cross the road. On further inspection, Mr. Jones sees an unconscious and remarkably huge raven knocked out cold on the street. Being a charitable soul, he brings the bird home to recuperate. But what Mr. Jones doesn't count on is the raven's remarkable appetite once it wakes up and sees where it is. Before you know it, it's pushing objects under the linoleum, eating the stairs (it has a real penchant for a good staircase), and knocking various objects to the ground. Mr. Jones is stunned. Mrs. Jones is aghast. Arabel Jones, their daughter, is in love. She swiftly names the bird Mortimer and adopts him on the spot. Their adventures together in this book involve everything from catching jewel thieves to breaking into hospitals to rescuing fainting babysitters. And you find as you read that the affection Mr. and Mrs. Jones come to have for Mortimer is the same affection you feel for him. It makes for truly amusing and touching reading.

There are lots of great books for kids that involve inviting a crazy n'er-do-well into one's home with disastrous results. "The Cat In the Hat", "Pippi Longstocking", etc. But these n'er-do-wells tend to be crazy because they're crazy people. Mortimer, on the other hand, acts like a wild animal in a domestic environment. Everything he does, aside from his eating habits, is understandable. I can perfectly imagine a pet who decides to be pulled everywhere in a red wagon or insists on sleeping in a bread bin. Mortimer's ability to eat anything and everything (at one point he devours an entire staircase leading from a subway train to its upstairs entrance) is just the kind of outrageous silliness to make the book exciting and full of what-will-Mortimer-do-next feelings. And then there's also the fact that Mortimer, while being very much a raven with a raven mind-set and emotions, really does care deeply for Arabel. When she becomes sick he goes to great lengths to reach her inside a closed up hospital. And Quentin Blake's illustrations are hilarious. I was particularly fond of the ones that showed Mortimer walking. One foot stuck straight out in front of him and a cheeky smile on his face.

The book is also full of jokes that parents will get while their children fail to understand. As a raven, Mortimer's continual cries of "Nevermore" are always well placed in the narrative. There are also truly Roald Dahl-like descriptive moments that are just as impressive in terms of their creativity as they are for their ridiculousness. For example, in one section, Mortimer has become entranced with the idea of machines you can put coins into. So off Arabel and her babysitter go to a newly renovated tube station with tons of machines. Says the book of them, "Another has apples, pears, or bananas. Another had sandwiches or meat pies.... Another would take a photograph of you looking as if you had seen a ghost. Another would massage the soles of your feet. Another would say a cheering poem and hold your hand while it did so... Another would blow your nose for you on a clean tissue, if you stuck the nose into a slot and, as well as that, give you a Vitamin C tablet and two mentholated throat lozenges, all for fivepence". This is a book that is unafraid to make jokes and references that fly high high above the intended audience's head. Parents everywhere should be grateful.

Flaws? Not many. Unless you count the fact that in spite of the fact that this is a book that takes place in Britain, the odd word here and there has been Americanized. I kept becoming confused when characters would eat "chips", because I was certain that in Britain chips are actually fries. Yet the pictures show actual potato chips being consumed. It makes for an odd reading.

So if you've a child who loves their Roald Dahl but wants to try something a little different, "Arabel's Raven" is an obvious next step. It's lighthearted and witty, with just enough mischief and good spirits to keep them interested and involved. A fabulous story for young `uns.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 1998
Format: Library Binding
I am 19 years old, and first came across this book at a thrift store. The cover depicted a small girl with a pan on her head holding the handle of a red wagon in which was perched a raven wearing a dishtowel. I was immediately intrigued. The story of Arabel and Mortimer is one that I have read over and over and over, and I still laugh aloud each time I read it. This book is absolutely marvellous, and I was constantly telling friends to read it. Unfortunately, I lost my copy, and lo and behold! It's out of print...but this is a book I'll be buying again as soon as possible. It is hilarious, weird, crazy, and just great. It should be read by everyone.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have loved this book since I was a kid. I suppose it was strange for a second-grader to go about saying 'nevermore', but this book started a fascination with ravens for me. I still want my own Mortimer! I was in London recently and the book is available (the paperback doesn't have the Arabel & Mortimer in a red wagon cover) or alternatively it's available from amazon.co.uk
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 1999
Format: Library Binding
When I was in fourth grade, my teacher gave me a copy of this book for Christmas. I read it over and over, and my copy is well-worn and loved. No matter what your age (and I'm now 27) it is a funny and witty book. When I was 10, I didn't get the whole Raven "Nevermore" thing, but that makes it all the funnier!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
We got some good laughs with this at first, but then the book just really dragged on. We were glad that it was over. We're all into humor and fun books - (Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant, Roald Dahl books, etc. - and so many others). But this one just didn't really engage us as much as we had hoped. The other thing that really got to us when reading this is that the chapters are VERY long ... This can be annoying for children to read or when parents want to read this to their children. You do want a chapter to end eventually, not to go on and on. There are about 4 chapters in the entire book.
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on June 22, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
It was an easy read, and a funny book. I would definitely share this book with some of my friends.
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on May 4, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I haven't had a chance to read this yet, but I lent it to a friend, and he thought it was delightful.
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on February 12, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I checked this book out from the library for my daughter. She loved it so much she read it aloud to me after she finished it. It was hilarious. She continued to talk about the book months after we took it back to the library. So, I came to Amazon and bought her a copy for Christmas. She couldn't have been happier.

The story of Arabel and Mortimer (her raven) takes you on a wild ride, out of the house and through the town. Just don't leave out anything you don't want Mortimer to eat! Oooops, what happened to the stairs? ;-)

We sought out other Joan Aiken books after our great experience with this one. Not a single one has disappointed. Joan Aiken is permanently on our list of favorite authors.
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on February 8, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
My third grader loves this series. At this age, I would also recommend A Necklace of Rainbows, Shadows and Moonshine, A Small Pinch of Weather and the Armitage children stories. The Dido Twite series is better for older children. Joan Aiken is a terrific writer and gifted storyteller so it's fun for the adult to read too - unlike so many of the agonising children's books out there.
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on August 30, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The entire Arabella and the Raven series is just great. My son loved them when he was 8 or 9 and now my grandson will be hearing them too. Creative, original.. humorous (lots of British terms and I love that). You'll have to explain some of the words to USA kids but the stories really are a delight. I'm in love with Mortimer the Raven.
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