Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken is the first book in a series, which was written in the early Seventies, and which were a staple of my own childhood reading. They tell the story of a young girl called Arabel, and the discovery of what becomes her pet raven, Mortimer.
When I was a child, they featured regularly on the children’s book programme Jackanory, often read by Bernard Cribbins, and feature fantastic illustrations by Quentin Blake. I hold them in great affection myself and have been delighted to share them with my own children, who love them too.
The books were out of print for many years, but have been recently reprinted, and have now become part of our school library. I have split them between the free reading section of the library (where the children can pick autonomously what they want to read), and guided free reading, where the children are given a little more structured help in choosing books before they are given entirely free rein.
They make for quite challenging guided free reading books, mainly because the language can be rather old fashioned, and the life that the books describe will be quite alien to the modern reader, and might need a bit of explanation from an adult. On the other hand, they are strong as guided reading books because they are short books, with manageable chapter chunking and a good proportion of illustration to text. The humour of the books makes them incredibly appealing, and has really stood the test of time.
I have chosen to add them to the guided free readers as I feel that children will be unfamiliar with Aiken’s work, and will not necessarily choose them as free readers, but I believe that once they have been introduced to the books they will enjoy them, and choose them thereafter. Once one or two children start reading and talking about them, they will become more popular, and I may well choose to move them all into the free reading section, as an enticement for readers who want to read them to work harder to attain free reading status.
Arabel’s Raven tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Jones and their daughter Arabel, and how they meet an eccentric raven who Mr. Jones takes home, and who becomes Arabel’s friend and pet. The story is full of humour and adventure, involving as it does, a plot line about a series of burglaries that affect the town where Arabel and her parents live. There are some beautifully eccentric touches like the fact that Mortimer likes to eat staircases, and the fact that he steals things and hides them under carpets. My children were particularly entranced by the fact that he eats the escalators at the local tube station.
The books are suitable for both boys and girls. I read them to my children when they were five, and have revisited them regularly since. As far as children reading them for themselves I would suggest it would be suitable for children aged eight and up, unless you are very confident of their reading and comprehension skills.