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When John-Peter inherits a tumbledown mansion in the country, he and his parents decide to live there. But he soon finds himself in a war with pirates - a pair of lively girls who live next door.
A few years back, my aunt returned a box of children’s books to me, most of which had been in the extended family since she and my mother were young, and had been read by every cousin in my generation. In it was a copy of A Castle for John-Peter, a book I had loved around age 6 or 7, but largely forgotten. I promptly re-read it to see if it was as charming as I remembered.
The answer? Yes and no. A Castle for John-Peter is a British children’s book from 1947, intended for young chapter readers. The underlying premise—a little boy inherits a marvelous old house in the country, and goes to live there—is certainly appealing, and the adventures which he and his neighbors get into are fun, if rather tame by today’s standards. I’m not sure how well it would appeal to modern children, but it might make a good read-aloud for youngsters of around 5 to 6. It has a little of the feel of The Penderwicks and other books about ordinary children’s everyday adventures, but is much shorter, and obviously aimed at a younger audience.
The pen-and-ink illustrations by Eileen Soper are sweet and very 1940s. Sloper went on to illustrate a number of children’s books, most notably Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series, but according to one bookseller, this may have been her first illustration project.
I’m not sure how the book came into my family originally. Our edition was printed in 1956, when my youngest aunt was about 8 years old. It may have been hers, or someone (my mother or another aunt) may have picked it up at a used bookstore or thrift shop when I was a child. I’ve never seen another copy anywhere, and it wasn’t on Goodreads (I had to add it myself), so it’s not at all well-known. My copy is considerably the worse for wear, as you can see from the photo below; it must have been stored where mice could get at it. (Not by me, I hasten to add!)
Final verdict: Sweet and gently charming, but probably not worth seeking out unless you collect vintage British children’s books. Or unless you, like I, remember the book fondly from your childhood.
A version of this review was first posted on Goodreads in 2014.