The Geekly Reader: Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken

Geek Culture

This is the first of what I hope will be a long-running weekly series of posts.  The Geekly Reader will review books that I think, based on personal experience, will appeal to the kids of GeekDad‘s readers.  I’m going to concentrate on less popular books because, let’s face it, nobody needs to read another review of Narnia, Harry Potter, or Spiderwick.  If you know of a book that you think would make a good Geekly Reader post, please feel free to mention it in the comments or e-mail me.

Arabel Jones is a young girl living in London whose life is transformed when her father hits a large black bird with his taxicab and brings him home to make sure he’s all right.  Arabel falls in love with the raven, whom she names Mortimer, at first sight, and her parents reluctantly allow her to keep him.  Mortimer is no ordinary raven, however: he quickly learns to say an English word (in a nod to Poe fans, the word is "nevermore"), loves to answer the telephone, hates to fly, and eats stairs (yes, stairs).

A great many hijinks ensue, including (but not limited to) Mortimer being accused of being a jewel thief, getting caught in a chimney, and roller-skating around a parking garage.  He sleeps in the coal scuttle, though he prefers the bread bin.  Arabel pulls him around in a red wagon, and loves him just as much as any real girl might love a puppy or a kitten.  Mortimer loves Arabel just as much, though he is easily distracted by food, fun, or machines of any sort.  Arabel’s parents are very loving, forgiving parents, though not as smart as their daughter (Arabel’s mother speaks almost entirely in malapropisms).

I loved the book and its sequels immensely when I was a kid, and my kids love them just as much, laughing hard at the mostly slapstick humor to the point where, when reading the books as a family, we have to wait for them to calm down to continue.  They will often act out the stories (or create their own), with my daughter playing Arabel and my son playing Mortimer.  (It is highly comical watching a seven-year-old boy running around the house calling out "Kaaark!" and "Nevermore!")  Unfortunately, only two books of the stories are currently in print, though each includes several of the original short books: the first, Arabel’s Raven, and Arabel and Mortimer.  All the Arabel and Mortimer stories were written by the late British author Joan Aiken.

It’s hard to give you a complete picture of the books in a short review, but here’s my favorite quote, from just after Arabel’s father hits Mortimer with his cab: "It is not so easy as you might believe to give brandy to a large bird lying unconscious in the street."  Now, tell me, how many kids’ books have a line like that?

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