Midnight At Moonstone by Lara Flecker and Trisha Krauss

The Blurb On The Back:

On the stroke of midnight, the costumes come to life.  And nobody is going to tell them what to do …

Kit’s father is away AGAIN, and although she’s supposed to be staying with her brother and sister, Kit steals away to visit her grandfather at Moonstone Costume Museum.

Once filled with extravagant wonders, the museum is now an ageing house with creaking floorboards and damp walls.  The decadent outfits seem dull and lifeless.  The fabrics worn and dusty.  But there is still magic within Moonstone’s walls, and Kit soon discovers that the old clothes have a secret of their own … because on the stroke of midnight, the costumes come to life.  And nobody is going to tell them what to do … 

You can order Midnight At Moonstone by Lara Flecker and Trisha Krauss from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

12-year-old Katherine “Kit” Halliwell has lived alone with her father, the world famous scientist Sir Henry Halliwell, ever since her mother died when she was a baby.  But Kit constantly feels that he sees her as a disappointment.  For starters, she isn’t as intellectually brilliant as her older brother Albert (a successful businessman) or older sister Rosalind (a political advisor to the government), as proven by the fact that she’s just failed the entrance exam to the prestigious William Siddis Memorial School for the second time (something that she’s too scared to tell her dad for fear of his reaction).  

The fact is, she’s more creative than academic, constantly making things out of paper and glue, and she’d really like to go to St Leopold’s school, which has a good art department but her dad simply won’t hear of it.  Worse, his job means he’s often not around – foisting her off on a series of agency nannies or making her divide her time between her brother and sister, while keeping up with her studies.

Well, this summer holiday, Kit’s had enough.  She’s not going to  comply with her dad’s itinerary.  Instead, she has decided to run away to Moonstone, the historic country house where her mum grew up and which houses the Moonstone Costume Museum, which is run by her grandfather, Bernard ‘Bard’ Trench.  Although Bard hasn’t seen her since she was a baby, he isn’t particularly welcoming – partly because he’s worried about losing his home and the museum to a property developer called Finn Scudder due to the Museum’s shabby condition and lack of visitors.  

But as Kit tries to persuade Bard to let her stay, she discovers there’s magic within the Moonstone – because at night, the costumed mannequins come to life – and they have lives, rivalries and concerns all of their own …

Lara Flecker’s debut fantasy novel for children aged 9+ (beautifully illustrated by Trisha Krauss) is a charming affair about the importance of creativity and coming together to help each other out.  There’s a bit of an old-fashioned vibe to the story telling but for me that added to its appeal and I think many readers will relate to Kit’s fear that she’s a disappointment to her successful dad and siblings.  

Flecker trained as a costume designer and now works for the world-famous Victoria & Albert Museum in London as an expert in displaying dress and fashion.  Her love and knowledge of the subject really comes through in this book and I think will appeal to any younger readers with an interest in the topic.  The descriptions of the different costumes worn by the Moonstone’s mannequin residents is lovingly evocative and she is hugely assisted by Trisha Krauss’s gorgeous illustrations – on first glance they seem to be simple black and white line drawings but the way she shades and hatches the different characters and scenes really helps to bring them too life and there are lots of lovely little details as you look at them (like discarded shoes and spools of thread).

The story itself has a bit of an old-fashioned vibe to it (young girl slowly bonds with gruff grandfather and discovers a world of magic along the way) but I genuinely mean this in a good way.  The relationship between Kit and her physically and emotionally distant father is well drawn and I think a lot of readers of any age (myself included) know what it’s like to worry that you are some kind of disappointment.  I also think that Flecker makes a good point about how being academically brilliant is great but being creative and wanting to make things or sew is equally valuable and worthwhile – something that I think kids need to hear more of.  The way the incredibly gruff Bard slowly warms to Kit is well drawn and I think it comes through that a lot of it has to do with his fears at losing his home and his regrets at how he left things with Kit’s mother (his daughter).

Scudder is a suitably dastardly, boo-hiss developer who delights in tormenting Bard and Kit although I wish he had got more of what he had coming to him at the end.  The mannequins themselves are quite broadly drawn, but the rivalry between Lady Ann Hoops and Kiki Kai is entertaining and Fennella’s desperate search for her younger sister Minna tugs at the heartstrings (with Flecker making the interesting decision to give her selective mutism, which I thought worked very well).

Flecker doesn’t seek to explain why the mannequins are able to come to life or what the conditions are for them to do so.  I am in two minds as to whether that worked particularly well because it did leave me with some questions, but on the whole I think she got away with it because of the overarching plot lines.  That idea, together with the way the book ends does provide Flecker with scope for a sequel if she wishes to do so and I would definitely want to check that out.  

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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