The Kingdom and the Cave, Joan Aiken, Doubleday & Company, 1960, 160 pp
THE SUNDAY FAMILY READ
Many years ago when I was reading by the alphabet system (as did Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), trying to read all the fiction in my library by authors whose last name began with "A", I discovered Joan Aiken. I read several of her novels for adults and especially liked Midnight Is a Place as well as Voices In an Empty House.
The Kingdom and the Cave is her first novel, written when she was just 17 years old, which would have been 1941, but not published until 1960. It is now out of print and rather hard to find. By 1960 she had published two collections of short stories for children.
This first novel has the quality which had charmed me in the novels I read: she presents children as fully fleshed out individuals who are capable, full of courage and often more sensible than the surrounding adults.
Such a child is Michael, son of a King and Queen whose kingdom is threatened but who are clueless about how to protect it. Michael, his excellent cat Mickle and an old mare by the name of Minerva, save the day. One of the first things Michael has to learn is to speak U. A. L. (Universal Animal Language.)
So there is danger, adventure and magic. There are talking animals and evil Under People. Honestly, this is as good as the Narnia books (and free of the moral lessons) or even equal to Harry Potter in many ways. The book is recommended for middle grade readers.
Joan Aiken just wrote and wrote for more than 40 years; over 35 books (including the award winning Wolves of Willoughby Chase) and hundreds of short stories. In 1982 she even wrote The Way to Write for Children. I must check that out.
(As mentioned above, this book is out of print. I could not find it at any of the libraries I use. It is available from used booksellers.)