MAY 23:

  • Happy birthday Peter Parnall (Everybody Needs a Rock), Merle Peek (Mary Wore Her Red Dress and Henry Wore His Green Sneakers), and Jeanne Titherington (Pumpkin Pumpkin).
  • It’s the birth date of Scott O'Dell (1898-1989), Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Oliver Butterworth (1915-1990), The Enormous Egg.
  • Happy birthday to the New York Public Library, dedicated on this day in 1911. Read I’m Going to New York to Visit the Lionsby Margot Linn, illustrated by Tanya Roitman.
  • It’s World Turtle Day. Read Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss, The Turtle by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Preston McDaniels, and Old Turtle by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Cheng-Khee Chee.

On May 23, 1935, Susan Cooper was born in England. While at Oxford, she listened to lectures by J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who had set up the curriculum in English Literature and Language. Although this meant as a student that she didn’t read much written past 1832, it did give her a lot of time to soak up medieval literature. Later, in one of her first jobs, she worked for the urbane and sophisticated Ian Fleming who was in the process of writing his James Bond novels.

But her marriage to an American brought Susan to the Boston area much to the delight of the children’s book community here. Susan would eventually win Emmys for writing screenplays and happily divide her time between writing for adults and writing for children; she began her career in children’s books with the Dark Is Rising series.

Although she can create high fantasy with the best of writers—she is most frequently compared to Tolkien himself—she also has a delicious sense of humor. And it is that trait that is most evident in the book of the day, her delightful romp of a novel ideal for eight- to twelve-year-olds, The Boggart.

Published almost twenty years ago, The Boggart focuses on some geeky children fascinated with the possibilities of the computer. Emily and Jessup Volink live in Toronto, but they learn that their family has inherited a Scottish castle. When the family sets out to visit this new prize, they discover the castle needs too much repair to keep, and decide to sell it. But because they send back some furniture to Toronto, they inadvertently ship to the new world a creature of old magic, the Boggart. A practical joker and trickster, the Boggart has lived for hundreds of years in England and now must adjust to less than ideal conditions in Canada. Fortunately, after finally figuring out that a Boggart lives with them, the children discover how to use a computer to send the old rascal home.

Like all of Cooper’s writing, a taut plot line compels readers along. She conjures up a cast of likable characters—possibly the most likable being the boggart himself. But this book, like so much of Cooper’s writing, also explores the longing to be home, the need to be in a beloved place.

The book works perfectly for young readers who like fantasy and realistic fiction intermixed; it can be read aloud in class or used in book discussion groups. And for independent reading The Boggart and its sequel will allow any reader to escape into the pages of a totally satisfying story. As is usual of Cooper’s writing, the language delights all wordaholics. Tommy’s father exhibits “fecklessness,” and Jessup is a “normal pestiferous little brother.”

Happy birthday to my near neighbor. This summer Susan Cooper will attend the American Library Association annual conference in Anaheim to receive the Margaret Edwards Award for the body of her work. If you have never had an opportunity to hear her speak, do everything in your power to do so. She is as eloquent in person as she is in prose; she is, in fact, one of our great class acts!

Here’s a passage from The Boggart:

For more centuries then he could count, the Boggart had lived at the edge of whatever family of MacDevons inhabited Castle Keep. He had no idea where he had come from. Nor did they. Sometimes the family knew he was there, sometimes there was nobody who noticed—though this offended the Boggart’s pride, and usually he would put the situation to rights by behavior so outrageous that even the most earthbound human would sense that magic was at work. (Once, in the sixteenth century, in the time of a particularly bone-headed MacDevon, he had had to leave a grinning luminous skull suspended in midair over the castle steps for a full week before the clan chief stopped, look up, and shrieked.)


Originally posted May 23, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: England, Magic, Technology
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Boggart
One year ago: Margaret Wise Brown


  1. Diane says:

    Anita, thanks for this wonderful post about Susan Cooper. I love her Dark Is Rising series but had never heard of The Boggart. I am eager to read this one. I had the priviledge to hear her speak this past fall at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. She was so gracious and compelling to listen to especially as she recounted what it was like for her at Oxford having Tolkien and Lewis as professors. Wow!

  2. lalibrarylady86 says:

    This cover art is interesting, but I am partial to the cover art of Trina Schart Hyman for “The Boggart”.

    Thank you for highlighting Susan Cooper and I am very glad she is receiving the Margaret Edwards Award. The Dark is Rising is one of the best children’s series there is. My childhood was marked by frequent re-reads of the books and I loved being able to share and read them aloud with my own child.

  3. :paula says:

    My one goal at BEA this year is to meet Susan Cooper. I’m not sure I’ll be able to speak coherently to her! It is fair to say that The Dark is Rising is my favorite book of all time. When I started working at the public library ten years ago I was astonished to learn that she was still writing! What a career.

  4. G. Perry says:

    I learned about Susan Cooper from Anita. The Dark is Rising become one of my most beloved children’s books found on the great and wonderful children’s book path Anita guided me down.

    I somehow missed reading this one. I’ll read it ASAP.

    I would love to meet Susan Cooper.

  5. Anita says:

    Gordon: I think you will enjoy this lighthearted romp. Anita

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