An eerie gothic fairytale with a World War II setting and magic at its heart– and the recipient of four starred reviews and multiple honors.
Twelve-year-old Katherine Bateson believes in a logical explanation for everything. But even she can’t make sense of the strange goings-on at Rookskill Castle, the drafty old Scottish castle-turned-school where she and her siblings have been sent to escape the London Blitz. What’s making those mechanical shrieks at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And who are the silent children who seem to haunt Rookskill’s grounds? Kat believes Lady Eleanor, who rules the castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must face the truth about what the castle actually harbors–and what Lady Eleanor is–before it’s too late.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns; Mild language; Child abuse; Ethnic slurs
Booklist starred (January 1, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 9))
Grades 5-8. Robbie is thrilled at the prospect of going to school in a Scottish castle, an escape from London’s Blitz during WWII. His older sister, Katherine, takes a more measured view, suspicious of what lies ahead: their father plays an undercover role in MI6, Britain’s intelligence service, and has trained Kat in his clock-repair business (“You’ve a mind for patterns and a careful, patient hand”). Kat’s suspicions only increase when her great-aunt Margaret hands over her odd-looking chatelaine, an antique belt with charms attached—each supposed to be suffused with magic should Kat need it. Sure enough, a dark and perilous challenge lies ahead, and Kat is destined to take it on, though the level of malice she faces may be greater than she expected. Lady Eleanor, ostensibly in charge of the castle and school, is a malevolent force straight out of horror tales, and the children will need to fight for their lives—and souls. This wonderfully written gothic fairy tale pairs the horror elements with a steampunk witch and mysterious staff, all while telling a war-espionage tale. Embedded lessons—even including Plato’s cave allegory—from a pair of sympathetic castle teachers provide clues to defeating the evil witch. Readers will curl up and keep the lights on with this chilling page-turner.
Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2015)
During the Blitz, 12-year-old Londoner Kat, along with two younger siblings and an American boy, is sent to a distant relative’s Scottish castle, where they confront evils both old and contemporary. Though Lady Eleanor claims to be starting an academy in her castle and has hired faculty to attend to the curriculum, it’s soon clear that none are what they claim to be. The old castle keep is burned out, and the newer part seems to have weird twists and turns, secret doors and strange goings-on, including several ghostly children. Clues multiply early on that Eleanor is the same woman for whom the creepy, unnamed village magister has replaced living parts one by one over decades, each given in payment for a charm for a child’s soul. Kat’s father–now away working for MI6–is a watchmaker, and Kat has his gift for numbers, gears, and puzzles. Witchy magic, Nazi menace, and clockwork all come into play, along with an Enigma machine and spies for both the Allies and the Nazis seeking occult sources of power or protection. After the breathtaking climax, various threads of the story are tied up in a drawing-room denouement in which the characters decide to dispose of toxic magical artifacts rather carelessly–though in a way that invites anticipation (and fortuitously leaves room for sequels). An original, clever, page-turning adventure. (Historical fantasy. 10-14)
About the Author
Janet S. Fox (Janet Fox) is a writer, mom, and former high school English teacher. Her first young adult novel Faithful (Speak/Penguin, 2010), was a 2011 Amelia Bloomer list pick, and is set in Yellowstone National Park in 1904. Forgiven, a companion YA novel (Speak/Penguin, 2011) set in 1906 San Francisco at the time of the Great Earthquake, was a Junior Library Guild selection and WILLA Literary Award finalist. Janet’s third YA, Sirens (Speak, 1012), is a “noir romance” set in 1925 New York. Get Organized Without Losing It is her award-winning middle grade self-help book for kids (Free Spirit Publishing, 2006), and her debut middle grade novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, is a spooky historical fantasy set in Scotland (Viking, 2016). Look for her second middle grade novel, The Last True Knight, from Viking in 2018. Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Janet currently lives in the mountains of Montana. The family loves dogs and is ruled by a rambunctious yellow lab puppy.
Her website is www.janetsfox.com.
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle Discussion and Activity Guide
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