Children’s book author JANET FOX has always been one of my favorite authors. Her YA historical novels are part of my collection and when I heard she was writing an MG, I knew I wanted to read it. THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE did not disappoint. Here is MY review of this wonderful novel:
“This creepy, scary, spine-tingly middle grade novel takes place in Scotland in 1940. Kat and her younger siblings Rob and Amelie, are sent by their parents to Rookskill Castle Boarding School in Scotland to escape Hitler’s blitz bombing of London at the start of WWII. Rookskill is no ordinary boarding school. And the Lady Eleanor who runs it, is no ordinary headmistress. As soon as they enter its doors, Kat feels off balance and at odds with the place. Teachers behave strangely. Ghostly figures roam the grounds. Children seem to disappear. Secret passages, hidden doors, ghosts, strange noises and even stranger nightmares fill Kat’s days and nights.
Kat suspects the castle – and its occupants – are under some kind of spell. But for what purpose? Are there German spies about? And, what does it all have to do with the mysterious chatelaine Lady Eleanor keeps fastened to her waist? Is it good magic or a more sinister dark magic?
This is a splendid page turner for anyone who enjoys mystery, fantasy, or historical fiction. Rich in details and grounded in time and place, it will keep you up at night and make you contemplate the very nature of good and evil.”
Now here is the interview:
How did you come to write for children?
I began writing for children when my son was little and it was clear he has dyslexia. I tried making stories for him that would help him learn – they were terrible! But it got me hooked on writing for children. I joined SCBWI, became friends with Kathi Appelt, who became a mentor to me, and then found my agent and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I earned my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.
You’ve had a successful career writing for YA with FORGIVEN, FAITHFUL, and SIRENS. What made you decide to write a book for the middle grade crowd?
I was actually trying to write new and different material, through my MFA program. I was trying to stretch and grow outside my comfort zone. When I had the idea for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, I began writing and right away knew that the book had a middle grade voice and a middle grade sensibility. It reminded me of the books I read when I was that middle grade age. Plus Kat was a middle grade character. The novel couldn’t have been written any other way.
Where did the idea for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE come about?
I’d just finished drafting SIRENS, and lazily perusing the internet, when a friend of mine posted a picture of a piece of jewelry called a chatelaine. I’d heard of chatelaines, and seen a few (check out the chatelaine worn by Mrs. Hughes on Downton Abbey), but this one was weird. So weird that I pulled the image off the internet and put it on my desktop. So weird that I couldn’t stop staring at it. So weird that it made a story in my mind, and it wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d put that story down on paper.
You can see that chatelaine as a drawing in the opening pages of the novel. It served as a guide for the concept of this story.
The Cover of the book is amazing! Care to comment on it?
I love my cover art!! Greg Ruth is the artist. He perfectly captured several things about the story: the dark, foreboding, mysterious, huge castle; the rooks, my antagonist’s familiars; the moonlight and the wavery sun; the odd Lady; the four children who stand in the circle of light, not really sure they should enter. One of the themes of the novel is that “the power is within you” – to solve problems, to grow – and so the suggestion of crossing a threshold and how that holds both fear and hope is perfect and resonant.
blurb: “Keep calm and carry on.”
That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do: when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.
But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?
Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.
Tell us THREE things about the main character in the story.
Kat – Katherine Bateson – worships her father, who works for MI5 and is a spy abroad during World War 2. Kat has a knack for puzzle-solving and a facility for math and science, and is very practical-minded. And Kat must learn that the power of magic, and the power to rescue her friends and family, lies within her.
I’m working on a sequel, although nothing is sure yet that Viking will want one – but I have such a fun idea that I’m going to run with it. I’m also working on another middle grade fantasy. My agent is shopping a YA science fiction and a non-fiction picture book, and I’ve got a solid draft of a YA contemporary novel set in Montana. I’ve got lots on my desktop!