This little book The Haunting of Charity Delafield has been in our school library for over a year and each time I shelve it I think - 'I really must read this one' - so yesterday I finally picked it up and two hours later I sighed with happiness. The cover looked so promising and I am happy to say I was not disappointed.
Charity is about to turn thirteen. Her whole life has been spent in one house and one garden. She has not met any other children or been to school. Her father is a distant almost frightening figure who controls every aspect of her life even the number of times her unruly hair is to be brushed by one of the servants called Rose. The 75 strokes of the brush twice each day are an agony for Charity but she knows this is something she must endure. Just as she knows her questions, and she has many, will remain unanswered.
"She was not allowed to run, or to explore much of her own house, or to leave the grounds. In fact, she was not allowed outside at all, except under strict supervision. She was discouraged from reading books of fairy tales and mythology."
All of this is about to change when one morning her father announces Charity is to be sent to a special boarding school. On this same day she meets a mysterious old woman beside the fence which surrounds her home. The woman seems to know Charity and more importantly reveals that Charity's mother is not dead, as she has been told. The old woman tells Charity to look for a horn.
The other hugely significant event on this momentous day is the arrival of the Chimney Sweep and his apprentice Silas Jones. When Silas meets Charity he immediately offers to be her friend. Together they explore the forbidden parts of the house using the chimneys. They find a small diary but as the words are read they disappear into smoke and a book of fairy tales. Each night Charity reads the fairy tales which seems to be hinting at her own history.
One of my favourite parts comes after their first foray into the soot filled hearth.
"They stood in the fireplace, smiling at each other, both covered in soot"
Silas slips away up the chimney just as Edward, the groundsman, arrives to check on Charity who has now been locked in her room.
"her eyes flicked down. With a shock she realized that the soot had all disappeared. Her nightdress was as white as snow, and her hair was shining gold; she looked as if she had just stepped out of the bath."
You can read a sample from the book here. Here are some insights into the writing process.
This book reminded me of The Secret Garden, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Little White horse by Elizabeth Gouge (I loved this book as a child) and Withering-by-Sea.