I was inspired by a recent comment on my blog from Miranda to write about one of my favorite authors of all time: Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Miranda pointed out that she had some difficulty finding a copy of Snyder's The Velvet Room a couple of years ago, but that it's now back in print. The reprint edition actually came out a couple of years ago, and there's no telling how long it will be available. I wanted to bring it to your attention now so that you can snag a copy for yourself if you're interested.
The Velvet Room is about twelve-year-old Robin, who lives with her family in a series of tents, and their Model-T Ford, during the depression. She longs to live in a real house, and is hopeful when her father takes a job at Mr. McCurdy's ranch, one that comes with a house to live in. Alas, the house is little more than a shack, and she and her siblings are expected to work hard on the fruit ranch.
However, Robin soon makes friends with a mysterious old woman who lives in a stone house in the woods, and receives some comfort. She also finds a secret way into the boarded up old McCurdy mansion, and there discovers the wonderful, unforgettable Velvet Room. "From the first glimpse, from the first minute, it was more than a room—more even than the most beautiful room Robin had ever seen... It was as if she had been there before, or at least known it was there. As if she had always known that there would be a place exactly like this." The Velvet Room is filled with books and other treasures, and features a velvet-lined alcove with window-seats, perfect for reading.
The Velvet Room becomes Robin's haven, where she escapes from the difficulties of ranch work, the awkwardness of the local school, and the demands of her family. She also learns about a long-ago girl who lived in the house, and is befriended by the daughter of the current ranch owner (who lives in a new, modern house). Eventually she solves a mystery, but is forced to choose between her family and her precious Velvet Room.
Although Robin's story is set during the Depression, her struggles to fit in and to remain loyal to her family while holding on to what is important to her, are timeless. The Velvet Room, and the old woman, Bridget, render the story magical, while Robin's other relationships and experiences feel (sometimes painfully) real. I can't recommend this book highly enough. I loved it the first time I read it (when I was probably 10 or 11) and I love it still.
According to the Zilpha Keatley Snyder's website, The Changeling, Black and Blue Magic, and the Green Sky Trilogy (Below the Root, And All Between, and Until the Celebration) are also now available in reprint editions. The website says that "Zilpha received so many letters and emails from devoted fans looking for these books, that she made arrangements through The Authors' Guild with iUniverse to republish them." Black and Blue Magic is one that I enjoyed, but it's not one of my special favorites. But The Velvet Room, The Changeling, and the three Green Sky books are all books that I adore, and have read and re-read throughout my life. In fact, although I have at least one used copy of most of these books (three copies of The Velvet Room, no copy of Below the Root), I've just taken advantage of generous birthday Amazon certificates sent to me by two of my favorite people to buy nice new copies of the reissue editions. If any of you have Amazon gift certificate balances burning holes in your pockets, you could do a lot worse. Thanks, L and L!!
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.