The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop: B-

From the back cover:
William has just received the best present of his life. It’s an old, real-looking wooden model of a castle, with a drawbridge, moat, and a finger-high knight to guard the gates. It’s the mysterious castle his housekeeper has told him about, and even though William is sad she’s leaving, now the castle is his!

William can’t wait to play with it—he’s sure there’s something magical about the castle. And he’s right. Because when he picks up the tiny silver knight, it comes alive in his hand!

Sir Simon tells William a mighty story of wild sorcery, wizards, and magic. And suddenly William is off on a fantastic quest to another land and another time—where a fiery dragon and an evil wizard are waiting to do battle…

This is a very clear example of a fantasy tale that purports to be about toy nights coming alive and questy adventures but is really about something entirely different. In this case, the real point of the story is William and his family learning not to be dependent upon their housekeeper, whose presence at home with William allows his parents to justify working very late each night and who is sort of a crutch for William in his various endeavors.

I sometimes felt that The Castle in the Attic trod a little too closely to afterschool special territory, wherein William learns a very important lesson about confidence and self-reliance. Ironically, the second half of the book, which details this “fantastic quest,” was far less original or interesting than the real world portion and my interest waned quickly.

Part of the problem might’ve been the format (audiobook) and the pause-laden, settle down class it’s story time approach to narration. I’m sure everything would’ve seemed far less insipid if it were just read straight instead of, “The stairs were lit by smoking torches… that left long back marks on the stone walls… above them.” Do they think kids need a break in the middle of a sentence in order to digest its meaning?

Overall, it’s an okay story about a nice, gentle kid who needs a little push to realize he can do things on his own and succeed. I’m not sure I would’ve bothered with the sequel had I not already checked it out, but it’s short and seems to feature William’s best friend, Jason, who I found amusing in his brief appearances in this book.

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