If you’ve ever been through Concord, MA, you’ve probably seen the house on Walden Street where this story takes place. Of course, the classic onion dome from the original cover illustration is no longer part of the house (if it ever was) but just knowing that the mysterious Victorian mansion exists gave me thrills long after I read the book.
The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton, is a gem of a book. It’s a treasure hunt and a mystery, with some of the clues and twists and turns containing a wealth of information on Concord authors and transcendental meditation, and (personally) it taught me to always look at words both backward and forward. (For example, I was totally aware from the start of Holes, by Louis Sachar, of the significance of Stanley Yelnats’ name. That’s totally due to this book.)
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Eleanor and Eddy Hall live with their aunt and uncle in an old mansion in Concord, Massachusetts. Their parents died when Eddy was a baby, leaving them in the care of Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily works hard to raise them, teaching piano and working at a local church as a choir mistress. Uncle Freddy, her brother, bears very little responsiblity. He loves both kids, but is in his own world, where he has tea with Emerson and communes with Thoreau.
Eddy and Eleanor overhear a conversation between Aunt Lily and the odious bank manager. Their wonderful old house is about to be taken by the bank for back taxes if Aunt Lily can’t raise $712. (This book was originally published in 1962, when that was a lot more money than it is now.) Mr. Preek also calls their house an ugly monstrosity, an eyesore, and mentions that when he gets his hands on it, he’d like to tear it down.
Since they can’t help with the money, Eddy and Eleanor decide to try to figure out why the house they think is so beautiful is such a problem for Mr. Preek. While they’re looking around the outside, they notice a diamond-shaped window they’ve never seen before inside the house. Intrigued, the children go looking for the window inside, and stumble upon a dusty attic bedroom, with twin beds and a chest full of toys. They confront Aunt Lily, who tells them the bedroom belonged to their Uncle Ned and Aunt Nora, her younger brother and sister who vanished as children years ago with Prince Krishna, who had attended Uncle Freddy’s school. All this information overwhelms Eddy and Eleanor, who didn’t know about Ned and Nora, Krishna or that Uncle Freddy was once an absent-minded professor who ran his own school of transcendentalism and eastern philosophy.
They ask if they can sleep in the attic bedroom, and Aunt Lily allows it. While they’re exploring the toy box, they find a note addressed to Ned and Nora, from Prince Krishna–a poem that promises a wealth of treasures to be uncovered for the lucky children who can follow the clues. Eddy and Eleanor think that if they can find the treasure, they can help Aunt Lily save the house. They spend the day searching the house, trying to figure out the clues, only to find nothing.
But that first night sleeping in the attic bedroom, moonlight shines through the mysterious diamond window, and Eleanor and Eddy dream. The first clue in the poem is about an angelic harp, and in the dream, a tiny Eleanor and Eddy are climbing a giant tree, listening to windy music and trying to find the instrument making it. Upon awaking, they know exactly what the harp treasure is, and realize (from a scratch Eleanor got in the dream) that the dreams are really happening.
Subsequent nights lead to more treasure hunting, and they see glimpses of two other children and a tall, handsome man in a turban on the edges of their dreams. Could it be that Ned and Nora and Prince Krishna are still searching too? The dreams continue, but the treasures become more difficult to find…and it seems like something dangerous is trying to stop them. Will Eddy and Eleanor disappear like Ned and Nora did? Will they find the treasure? Who…or what…is trying to stop them?
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There is a lot going on in this book! Concord authors Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott figure heavily into the plot, and quotes from their works head most of the chapters. Uncle Freddy’s Transcendentalism is a vital part of the story. It’s not an easy book, but it’s well worth the time spent reading it. It would be a great book for a parent/child book group, since some parts might do well with a little more explanation and sharing.
There are several books following Eddy and Eleanor and their family. The collective title is The Hall Family Chronicles. The Swing in the Summerhouse is the second book, and my second favorite. In that book, jumping from a swing through various doorways in an old gazebo allows Eddy and Eleanor and their new neighbor Georgie to see their artistic creations come to life. And who wouldn’t love that!? The Fledgling, another one in the series, won a Newbery Honor Award. The most recent title was published last year.
These books are well worth reading, for children and (if you missed it as a kid) adults as well. I’d say they’re best for upper elementary readers, especially those who like a challenge with their reading!