Flashback Fridays: “Hop to the hearths now, quick, and raise the flames up tall. Let me see ’em hiss like snakes and snap their jaws like wolves! . . . “

You’re a boy whose mother has left him alone for the first time overnight while she goes to town.  It’s your twelfth birthday and you want to prove yourself responsible and reliable.  But then your  mother doesn’t come home on time . . . and as time passes your worry grows, until you head out to find her.  But how can one boy on foot find his way through the dark and dangerous wood? Particularly when you can’t speak or even shout for help . . .

Do you remember:

The Half-A-Moon Inn by Paul Fleischman, illustrations by Kathy Jacobi (HarperCollins, c1980)

This was one of the stories my mother read aloud to me and my brother so many moons ago.  And now I’m reading it to my own son, and remembering how much I enjoyed it.  Aaron lives alone with his mother in a small house by the sea.  On the eve of his twelfth birthday his mother offers him a grown-up challenge, to stay at the house on his own this time while she goes to market and returns the next day.  Aaron has never been away from his mother before, but he’s eager to prove himself.  When an early snowstorm hits and  his mother doesn’t return from her trip, however, Aaron worries his mother may be in trouble–and he must go and try to find her.  So he sets out on his own into the wood . . . only to soon find himself terribly lost.  He finally finds his way to a place called The Half-A-Moon Inn, where he hopes to find someone who can help him get his bearings. Only Madame Grackle, the innkeeper, has something different in mind–she’s needed a person to light the fires and do the chores, and an honest boy far from home who cannot speak a word makes for the perfect prisoner.  Trapped at the Half-a-Moon Inn, how will Aaron ever find his mother or get home again?

This adventure tale is one of those lovely shorter stories that’s a perfect read aloud for first and second graders–and good reading for older children. My son of six years is sitting and listening with fascination to the tale.  He won’t say he likes it, because he doesn’t like the parts where Aaron is lost and a prisoner but he confessed to me that “Mom, I read the ending, kind of so I know Aaron will be okay.”  It’s also a significant story as being one of the first I’ve ever read where the main character has a disability.  Aaron is mute, unable to speak or make sounds.  This makes it difficult for him to get the help he needs when he’s out in a world that can’t read and write like his mother can.  Yet Aaron finds his way through his adventures–and is shown as intelligent, resourceful and capable in many other ways.  There are few enough stories that depict characters like this, even today–especially adventures and fantasy stories.

And if you’re wondering, this story is indeed a speculative fiction tale–even if the fantasy elements are fairly limited.  The magic in the story mainly involves Madame Grackle and her Inn.  The Inn apparently is under a curse that requires someone with an honest heart to light the fires in the hearths.  If a person with a crooked heart and deception in mind tries to do so, the fires will not start.  Thus, Madame Grackle’s need for Aaron specifically to keep the Inn warm.  She cannot do it herself.  The other bit of magic is one the innkeeper does herself.  She has concocted dumplings in her soup that put her customers to sleep and make them dream.  While they’re dreaming, she can lift their eyelids and see those dreams lit up in their eye.  The reason she does this?  She’s convinced that nobility come to her Inn in disguise and that one day she’ll catch them by their dreams.  Then she can hold them for hostage for a rich reward.  I love Kathi Jacobi’s pencil illustrations–particularly the one seen here on the front cover of the book at that top of the page.  It really captures the tone and feel of the story.  After the last few read-aloud selections for my son, I’ve realized that while good stories come in abundance, exceptional writing that really trips off the tongue and sets the stage for the listener isn’t as common.  Paul Fleischman’s prose is spoiling me a bit.  He not only composes a story well, but does so with keen ear–and it makes my job reading this aloud that much easier.

Paul Fleischman is the son of well-known writer Sid Fleischman (author of 1987 Newbery winner The Whipping Boy) and clearly took after his father in his skill and love of the craft.  A bit of author trivia, with Paul’s  Joyful Noise: Poem’s For Two Voices winning the Newbery in 1989, he and his father became the only father and son authors to both win the award!  Fleischman has done some marvelous work for children and teens, but very little of it other than this title would qualify as speculative fiction.  So that makes this story a bit unusual in his body of work, but by no means unwelcome.  The story has remained in print over the years and should still be found on your library shelves today!

So would you dare to stop at the Half-a-Moon Inn? Comments Welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on June 13, 2015, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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