Back in the spring, a friend of mine reviewed Caterpillar Hall, by Anne Barrett (1950) on her blog, Staircase Wit, and I was intrigued as all get out. Kindly, she made a copy for me...and I have now read it, with great enjoyment.
Penelope lives a lonely life in London, cared for by her governess, Miss Pink, and her distant uncle, while her father is off in Persia trying to restore the family fortunes enough so that they can move back to their ancestral home (pause while I look up Persia, to see when it became Iran--1935. The book is set a few years after WW II, so I guess it's ok for a girl of that time to still say "Persia."). One day her father (who seems to be having some success) sends Penelope five whole pounds to spend as she pleases, and Penelope decides on an umbrella. Not a dull black one, but a lovely one, to be used in all the imaginative ways one might need shelter--a tent roof, a palmy oasis, a parachute....
And so Miss Pink, after some protestation, takes Penelope umbrella shopping. And Penelope comes home with a beautiful parrot handled umbrella....
On her first outing with her new friend, a gust of wind hurtles him up and into a walled garden. Penelope of course hurries after....and finds herself in the garden of a bombed house. All that remains is the glass vestibule, that once reached from the door to the street, like a glass caterpillar. But someone is living there in "Caterpillar Hall"--a lovely young lady, who becomes Penelope's dear friend. She tells Penelope that her umbrella is magic, an indeed it is.
The magic takes Penelope as a spectator back in time, watching the moments in the lives of those around her--Miss Pink, her uncle, and the older couple that look after the house--when they too were young, wishing for something as much as Penelope had wished for her own umbrella. It's a very passive type of time travel, but just gorgeously generous in its visual descriptions, and emotionally pleasing, in that Penelope learns to see the adults around her as three dimensional people, with dreams of their own. They want small things, for the most part--a beautiful hat, a ship in a bottle, a copper kettle, but there's one thing that's very large indeed.
And so, with what is left from her five pounds, and the help of her new friend, Penelope sets out to find them what they want.
This is pretty much a perfect Charlotte book. I would have swooned with adoration for it as an eight year old, and managed to love it even as a hardened adult. It has:
--beautiful descriptions of lovely things and places
--an engaging young heroine, with whom I would like to play
--enough time travel magic to be interesting, without being stressful
--a very happy ending
Utterly charming. My only regret is that it is out of print and expensive, so probably you won't be able to read it...