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The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories (Junior Library Guild Selection) Hardcover – October 28, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


What a thrill to discover this gem from the witty and endlessly inventive Joan Aiken -- Chris Riddell Joan Aiken's invention seemed inexhaustible, her high spirits a blessing, her sheer storytelling zest a phenomenon. She was a literary treasure, and her books will continue to delight for many years to come -- Philip Pullman She was a consummate story-teller, one that each generation discovers anew -- Amanda Craig The Times A writer of wild humour and unrestrained imagination Oxford Companion to Children's Literature A delightful whimsical set of stories about young Mark and Harriet Armitage and the fantastical things that just happen to them, where if the lawn is full of unicorns you can count on their father to rush out and try to stop them eating the roses. These stories are funny and often unexpectedly poignant. They also don't have a wasted word or scrap of information. They're both charming and genuine in a way that few things manage -- Jo Walton Inexhaustibly imaginative, Aiken was one of the twentieth century's greatest children's authors. Witty, zany and entirely sane, this is a necklace of diamonds -- Amanda Craig New Statesman Often bonkers stories, always written with cut-glass precision ... Aiken is a superb storyteller The Times A writer of wild humour and unrestrained imagination Oxford Companion to Children's Literature A delightful summary of one side of Aiken's talent: whimsical, funny, a series of brilliantly imaginative ideas stitched together with dream logic... It is the mixture of irrepressible gaiety and invention with the tragic that makes Aiken one of the great children's authors...impossible to calculate the number of people who have enjoyed her books - who have had some magic injected into the mundane Sunday telegraph Joan Aiken is a superb storyteller who refusal to skimp on sophisticated language, and the Armitage parents' droll indifference, is guaranteed to give children and parents a Ready Brek glow The Times, Children's Book of the Week --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Best known for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken (1924-2004) wrote over a hundred books. After her first husband's death, she supported her family by copyediting at Argosy magazine and an advertising agency, then began publishing fiction. She went on to write for Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Vanity Fair, Argosy, Women's Own, and many others.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 930L (What's this?)
  • Series: Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Big Mouth House; First Edition edition (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931520577
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931520577
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,253,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Kate Coombs VINE VOICE on December 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is old-fashioned story telling at its finest, reminding me why so few books manage to stick in my head these days. The best books are great because they are truly creative, as opposed to predictable and mundane.

Of course, Joan Aiken's gift is for making the ordinary extraordinary. A family called the Armitages lives in a house where magical things tend to happen, often--but not always--on Mondays. Mark and Harriet and their parents simply keep an eye out for such happenings, participating with true British aplomb as well as gusto. It's a place where your great-uncle's mythic apple might attract the Greek Furies to your basement, your parents might be turned into ladybugs, or a quince tree might be stolen by a lady journalist who is also a witch. Where you might be asked to raise a baby griffin, which sounds like fun until you discover just how much the creatures can eat. Where little people prove to be much more grubby and querulous than Mary Norton's Borrowers, and where cutting a puzzle off the back of a cereal box may lead you to a spell that has trapped someone inside for a century.

Most of the stories are funny, and some of them are poignant. Any child who loves the Narnia books and isn't locked into sitcom-type story telling will find that Joan Aiken's Serial Garden is the real thing--a fantasy book that leaves you saying, "Ahhhh" after you finish it.

Joan Aiken is best known for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, one of my favorite books as a child (and as an adult). But if you want to find out how to handle two druids fighting in your backyard over a bathmat woven of beard hair, you really should read The Serial Garden.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Monica Edinger on December 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I was a bit skeptical when I heard about these because I'm not a big reader of short stories (sorry!) and so loved Aiken's children's novels that I didn't think these would hold up. Well, they do more than hold up. They are absolutely magical! Really. The Armitage family comes out of the tradition of families like those of Nesbit or Eager. There was for me even a tinge of the Peterkins in these stories (though, I assure you that these folks are not nearly as bumbling and there is no lady from Philadelphia to bail them out). The humor, often involving magic gone wrong, is in the vein of Diana Wynne Jones. There are sad moments too, say the one of the poor music teacher and another involving a baby goblin.I guess this is what is sometimes called domestic fantasy, stuff that happens with this family, in their small village that just seems to have witches, unicorns, and other magical stuff in the daily life of the place and people. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By The Book Nosher on August 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Thanks goes to our wonderful children's librarian who steered me to this utterly delightful series of short stories. Although many of the stories in Joan Aiken's The Serial Garden were originally published over fifty years ago, they were completely new to me. It's hard to believe I never discovered them before, and I'm sorry that my children (who are now teenagers) never had the pleasure of hearing them read aloud.

The Armitages are an English family in the 1950's who live a rather magical life. It all starts when Mrs. Armitage muses to Mr. Armitage on their honeymoon that she's worried that living happily ever after could be a bit boring. Serendipitously she finds a wishing stone and makes a wish that things won't be dull, and that interesting and unusual things will happen to them, perhaps on Mondays, but not always Mondays (because that could get boring too). She also wishes that her future children will have a fairy godmother. And that their house will have at least one ghost. Right then and there, the stories are born.

Fast forward twelve years or so, and you meet Harriet and Mark, their two plucky children who manage to handle all that comes their way with grace and humor. There are witches and unicorns and best friends who are six inches tall. Things often go awry, and yet these two continue on, seemingly unperturbed by the chaos that surrounds them. They are curious and fearless, whether they are encountering druid brothers fighting over a bathmat made of human hair, or magical gardens that grow out of cereal boxes. In one story, an invisibility cloak is even mentioned, and these were written years before Harry Potter came on the scene.

The stories are imaginative and well written, with surprise twists and turns on almost every page.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Margaret Kim Peterson on October 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read about this book in the May/June 2009 issue of The Horn Book, and although I'd hardly read any other Joan Aiken (somehow, as a child, I got the idea that I didn't like her books) was somehow moved to order it. I'm so glad I did. I read the entire thing aloud to my 8-year-old son, who said, about halfway through, "I love these stories." They were just magical--not only in subject matter, but in their tone, their turns of plot, their gentleness, their sheer imaginative whimsy. Among my favorite stories was the one about the governess at the seaside cottage whose ghost is given rest when Harriet and Mark figure out what she is distressed about and contrive to relieve her anxiety. And the title story is simply breathtaking. Read this book--you'll love it, too!
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