I usually don’t read many short stories…I like spending time with people I meet in books. That’s part of the reason that series are so much fun…lots of adventures with characters who just keep going and going and going…
Somehow though, the Armitage family, featured in Armitage, Armitage, Fly Away Home by Joan Aiken still feels like a whole continuing saga. Despite having very short adventures the family feels very real. Eccentric and enjoyable, but real!
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Once upon a time, Mr. and Mrs. Armitage were on their honeymoon. They went to the beach, where Mrs. Armitage found a strange rock with a hole in the middle. She put it on her finger, and mused about how she would like her life to go: a beautiful house with a big garden, a field and at least one ghost, two children who would have interesting and unusual things happen to them (like a fairy godmother), a magical, exotic pet, and magic happening on Mondays. But not always Monday, and not every Monday, because that could get boring.
As it turned out, the stone was a wishing stone, and Mrs. Armitage got all that she wanted and more. Mark and Harriet might be used to adventures on Mondays (and the occasional Tuesday), but nothing ever happens twice the same way, so they have to come up with some creative solutions each time. Whether they’re dealing with a ghostly governess who likes to lecture, rescuing their father (unexpectedly turned into a ladybug) from the wizards who took over their house as a school, or suddenly having their fairy godmother gift them with magnificent voices for the holiday concert, this brother and sister don’t let anything get them down!
The Armitage family is very, very British. They handle everything that comes at them with hardly a flinch, whatever they’re facing. And the things they face? Well, things like misfiring magic wands and cursed heirlooms would probably send most people running for the nearest safety!
How would you deal with magic every Monday? (and the occasional Tuesday?) Would you depend on it to happen? Would you get bored of witches and wizards and dragons and talking mice popping in and out of your life, or would you eagerly anticipate every Monday, hardly daring to breathe, waiting to see what magical adventure you would face? Hang out with Harriet and Mark, and see what the Armitage family thinks.
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The stories that make up Armitage, Armitage, Fly Away Home were written between 1955 and 1965, and brought together as a short story collection in 1968. Other Armitage stories were released in short story collections over the years.
Joan Aiken was probably best-known for her classic book The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (an Old Favorite here). The Wolves Chronicles continued the adventures of Bonnie, Sophie, Simon and Simon’s friend Dido, until Joan Aiken’s death in 2004. Not as many readers know that she was a prolific short-story writer, or that she wrote adult material as well. Writing did run in the family; her father was poet Conrad Aiken, and her sister was author Jane Aiken Hodge.
In 2008, all of the published Armitage family stories, as well as four never-before published stories, were brought together in a collection called The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories. It’s a wonderful book, and quite easy to either read in one sitting or put down and enjoy over several weeks. Unfortunately our copy has been recently lost and has to be replaced, but don’t let that stop you! This is also a great book to read aloud…especially if your group changes over time. You won’t need to catch anyone up on all the action, just the who’s who of characters.
The stories are great for all ages; with all the Briticisms, the reading might be difficult for anyone younger than fifth grade, but they’re definitely enjoyable for kids as young as first grade. As for how they feel…they’re kind of a combination of Mary Poppins meets Luna Lovegood (from the Harry Potter books.) Pick up an Armitage story today (you can find at least one in all the short story collections edited by Aiken over the years) and see if you agree.
And if you go out and look for a rock with a hole in the middle that might fit over your finger and make a wish…well, I’ll never tell!