A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken, pictures by Kevin Hawkes 84 pp RL 2

Short story collections for kids are very rare these days, and, while I haven't read very many in my life, I suspect that Joan Aiken has to be one of the most prolific and excellent writers of short stories for children in the 20th century. A Necklace of Raindrops came about when, in 1968, Aiken was to write stories from a list of 200 words for younger readers in America - much the way Theodore Geisel (Dr Seuss) got started writing what are now known as "easy to read" books for beginning readers. A Necklace of Raindrops also marked the beginning of a fruitful picture book collaboration with the children's book artist Jan Pienkowski.

A Necklace of Raindrops was reissued in 2001 with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes, who illustrated the remarkable picture book Weslandia by Paul Fleichsman, as well as all of Eva Ibbotsen's magical novels for children. The eight stories all involve magic of one kind or another, some very much like traditional fairy tales. The title story is about a father who rescues the North Wind one night and in turn receives a necklace for his daughter. Every year on her birthday the North Wind gives her a raindrop that provides her a new magical quality, such as staying dry in a rain storm, being able to swim the deepest river and the ability to make it rain by blowing her nose. A jealous friend leads the girl on a journey to Arabia and an encounter with the king. Another favorite story of mine is "The Baker's Cat," in which Mog, the water loving cat of the baker, is given warm milk with yeast in it to help him keep from catching cold after sitting in a puddle all morning. The yeast causes Mog to grow to the size of a house and throw the town into a panic. But, Mog redemeems himself by settling down for a nap in a riverbed and acting as a dam that saves the town from being flooded.

This book is a wonderful read out loud for children as young as three or four, if they have good attention spans. There are pictures on almost every page to keep their interest. But, make sure you reintroduce it to your children when they are old enough to read it on their own.

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