Joan Aiken’s sweet collection of eight short children’s bedtime stories, originally published in 1968, has just been released in audio format by Listening Library. The audiobook is just over 1.5 hours long and is excellently and lovingly narrated by the author’s daughter, Lizza Aiken. It contains these stories:
“A Necklace of Raindrops” ̶ Every year on her birthday, the North Wind gives Laura Jones a new raindrop for her necklace. Each raindrop gives Laura a special power. When a jealous schoolmate steals the necklace, Laura has to find it. Fortunately, since she is such a nice girl, she has friends to help.
“The Cat Sat on the Mat” ̶ Emma’s impoverished family lives on a broken-down bus. When a fairy gives Emma a cat that grants wishes, Emma has the chance to make things easier for her family. But Emma doesn’t realize what she should be wishing for because the adults don’t share their anxieties with her.
“There’s Some Sky in this Pie” ̶ When an old woman accidentally bakes some sky into the pastry of her apple pie, she and her husband have a cute adventure.
“The Elves in the Shelves” ̶ When Janet is left alone at night on her birthday, she is scared to go to sleep. When she wishes for someone to talk to, characters start coming out of her new books. Suddenly she has a room full of playmates.
“The Three Travelers” ̶ The three men who have the job of taking care of a train station in the desert are always stuck there and they never see any travelers or any of the world beyond the station. One day they decide that they want to be the travelers and they each go off on an adventure.
“The Baker’s Cat” ̶ When Mrs. Jones’ cat gets sick, she feeds him yeast. When he starts to rise, her neighbors get upset.
“A Bed for the Night” ̶ A travelling musical group needs a place to stay for the night, but nobody will let them in. Finally, a woman agrees to give them a bed if they’ll find her lost egg.
“The Patchwork Quilt” ̶ An old lady is making a magical patchwork quilt, but it is stolen by a desert-dwelling Arab who eventually gets what he deserves.
Each of these simple stories is imaginative and entertaining. I enjoyed all of them when I listened to the audiobook straight through, but A Necklace of Raindrops will work best as a set of bedtime stories. On average, they each take about 12 minutes to read or listen to, making them perfect for parents looking for some fantastical bedtime tales. Each has a happy ending that’s suitable for sweet dreams. Several contain catchy songs or poems that will surely delight the target audience.
The stories feel quaint and old-fashioned as they’re filled with old ladies, little girls, talking animals, trains, coal, quilts, apple pies, ice boxes, and far too many unrelated characters with the last name Jones (and a Mr. Smith and a Mr. Brown, too). There is no moral ambiguity to the characters and they stick to their stereotyped gender and ethnic roles — men drive trains, women bake and sew, Arabs are scoundrels. It seems a little unfair to mention this for a book whose first edition was published before I was born, but my preference is for stories that don’t perpetuate those types of stereotypes. Still, it’s only eight stories, so how much perpetuating can they really do?
At least some of the print versions contain some lovely illustrations by Kevin Hawkes. The one I’ve shown here is from the titular story. (The North Wind is caught in a tree and Mr. Jones helps him out. That’s why he gives Laura the necklace of raindrops.) This is a book that might be worth having in both audio and print versions. Young children who are learning to read can listen while following along in the book.