Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll #97: The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton
#97 The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton (1962)
A fantasy, a mystery, a spiritual odyssey — and the most underrated children’s book of all time. Here’s hoping that her Newbery Honor lesser book, the Fledgling, leads more children to this masterpiece. – Beverly Spitzer
Magic in Concord, Massachusetts. Plus Emerson and Thoreau. This book (and its sequels) struck a deep chord in me early on. – Anne Nesbet
Magic, family secrets and puzzles in verse are combined to create engaging adventures for a brother and sister team that want to save their family’s house from being repossessed by the bank. This is not like other magical adventure books- there is something so immediate here that the reader is drawn completely into the story. There are interesting references to historical figures of the Transcendalist movement that give it texture and depth. I love this remarkable book- and am sad that it has not really attained the classic status I think it should have. The rest of the series is not as outstanding. – Christine Kelly
Meet our first out-of-print classic. While folks remember this book dearly (the quotes alone will convince you of that) that didn’t stop it from running out of print over time. A strange little number it’s usually forgotten in favor of Langton’s mildly better known Newbery Honor winner The Fledgling. Spoiler Alert: Guess which of the two didn’t make the list?
The description from Kirkus reads: “An old New England house about to be usurped by creditors, is the setting. Tracing valuable treasure to save it,- the problem. The solid citizens of Concord have threatened Aunt Lily with eviction unless she can scrape up the back taxes on her house. Determined to help, Eddy and Eleanor begin rummaging through the attic and discover a hidden room where two children lived years ago. According to Aunt Lily, Ned and Nora disappeared from their beds along with her fiance, Prince Krishna. As Eddy and Eleanor settle down in the mysterious beds, they are thrown headlong into a series of dual dreams –exciting and colorful — each inspired by Uncle Freddy’s quotations from Thorean and Emerson or by a possible clue to the hidden treasure. The bubble dream climaxes a long odyssey.”
Finding information about the book can be tricky. Seems that the only person to give this book adequate attention is Anita Silvey. This came from her The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators: “Langton’s earliest attempts were ‘under the spell of those remembered English stories of gardens and kings and castles,’ but it was Eleanor Estes’s Moffat stories that set her on the right path. ‘Reading about the Moffats,’ Langton has said, ‘I understood that children’s books didn’t ahve to be about princesses in imaginary countries. They could be about ordinary people here and now.’ Later Silvey says, “Good versus evil, right versus wrong, justice versus injustice – these values permeate Langton’s books. Like the transcendentalists, her characters are willing to risk personal well-being in their pursuit of more idealistic goals.”
That’s one resource. Then in Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children’s Book, Gregory Maguire chose The Diamond in the Window as his children’s book of choice. Says he, “All these years later, I live in Concord, hardly a mile from the house memorialized by the book. I dream a different series of dreams. Dreaming and examining what might be of value within the subconscious images is the start of my writing life every day. Thinking – about concepts with capital letters like Truth, like Wickedness – powers my work till bedtime. In gratitude, I keep The Diamond in the Window and its sequels close to hand. My world, lit by diamonds, seems enormous these days.”
Kirkus said of it, “Reminiscent in structure of Alice In Wonderland, it gives full vent to fantasy in following the escapades of Eddy and Eleanor in a world of dreams and nightmares.”
- Here’s a personal story about the book.
- There are even children’s literature blogs with its name.
Naturally, there are the kooky covers:
Filed under: Best Books, Top 100 Children's Novels (2012)
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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