This sprightly and continuously inventive story never lets up, at times almost risking joke inflation as it charges from one fantastic and usually ludicrous plot development to another. It features a young brother and sister staying for a week in the house of Miss Filey while their parents are away. She is an exceptionally game old lady whose childhood wish-fulfillment fantasies, garnered from her now ancient but once favourite volume Adventure Stories for Girls, have an alarming way of actually becoming true once magic candles are lit. At times reminiscent of E. Nesbit’s time-shift stories, although without her concerns with social issues, this is high-octane story-telling from start to finish.
There are also overtones of Philippa Pearce’s classic story Tom’s Midnight Garden, where young and old meet on equal terms at night in their respective dreamlands. But Lissa Evans is so determinedly being funny there is less room in her writing for those moments of pathos and understanding intrinsic to Pearce’s writing. One exception here is provided by how she writes about young Ed, who is a wheelchair user and initially suspicious of anything that looks like pity from outside. His growing relationship with same-age Willard from next door, the third of the trio, is sensitively portrayed while also providing temporary breaks from otherwise hectic comic activity.
There is so much to enjoy and also to wonder at here from a writer with an extraordinary imagination linked to a never-failing sense of fun. Written in large print, with short chapters accompanied by jolly black and white illustrations from Bec Barnes, this story deserves large sales. It would be nice too if it could be stocked in as many libraries, school or public, that still exist.
Read our interview with Lissa Evans