Mary Stewart is best known for her Merlin-themed books (including The Crystal Cave), which are geared toward slightly older readers, but A Walk in Wolf Wood, (along with The Little Broomstick and Ludo and the Star Horse) are wonderful books to make accessible to younger readers. Told in clear, descriptive prose, with plenty of adventure and mystery, plus a few nuggets of wisdom, Stewart’s novels are a great addition to any child’s library.
John and Margaret Begbie are enjoying a holiday picnic when they are distracted by the sight of a distraught, weeping man rushing into the forest. Even odder, the man appears to be dressed in clothing from another era: a tunic and hose, cloak and knife, and a beautiful gold medallion. Compelled to follow him, the children creep into the forest till they reach a ramshackle cottage where they hear an extraordinary story from its inhabitant. The weeping man is Lord Mardian, and the gold medallion was a gift from his dearest friend Duke Otho. But thanks to an evil enchanter named Almeric, the friendship has been sundered and Mardian is cursed to roam as a wolf whenever the sun goes down.
The children have inadvertently time-shifted back into the 13th century, and Mardian sees in them the chance to see things set right. Lending them his gold medallion, he charges them with the task of delivering it into the hand of Duke Otho and explaining his story to his former friend. Then perhaps, the spell will be broken. But the children must first adjust to life in the distant past, and the wiles of the evil Almeric, who has disguised himself as Mardian and dwells within the court itself, whispering poison in the ears of Otho’s son Crispen.
A Walk in Wolf Woods is a pleasant and exciting read for the under-10s, and is of particular interest is the way Stewart incorporates legitimate information about the medieval period into the text, as well as paragraphs of unsurpassed wisdom. How many children’s books do you read these days that has a paragraph like this in it: “They knew that, if you find some person or creature in desperate need of help which you can supply, you have a human duty to supply it, even if it could inconvenience you or even hurt you to do so. This, after all, is how the greatest and best deeds in the world have been done, and though the children did not say this aloud, they knew it inside themselves without even thinking about it.”
It isn’t all perfect; a character named Lady Blancheflower is introduced as a possible threat to the children (having seen them outside the castle walls) only to totally disappear from the action, and Almeric is a trifle bland as the lead villain (he’s your typical tyrant who wants to take over the land), but nonetheless, this is a top-notch novel for young readers.