7 Dec 2009

The Mysterious Toyshop

We're totally enchanted by this year's Christmas Family Read-aloud: The Mysterious Toyshop by Cyril W. Beaumont exquisitely 'decorated' by Wyndham Payne.

To begin with there's the cover. I wonder if you delight in reading books with covers like this one as much as I do? How do they think a Kindle will be able to complete with books like this? Hah! The rough, foxed, yellow deckle edged pages all of slightly different sizes simply add to the reading experience in such a way that I can't imagine a screen ever doing. This book just feels good in my hands. I like it before I even open to the first page.

When I do, this is what I find:
It was a fortnight before Christmas, and every one agreed that this would be a real Christmas, such as had not been seen for many years. There was a delightful cold nip in the air, as exhilarating as good news; the sky was grey and overcast, and the streets were covered with a thick layer of snow.

Few sights are more charming than that of a town covered with newfallen, clean, white snow; and how pretty it is to watch the tiny flakes drift downward through the air as if there were a wedding in the sky and the fairies were throwing confetti.

Into this town- which happens to be London in the 1870's, comes a Mysterious Toyshop.

It sprang into being almost as quickly as the magic palace of Aladdin. Nothing was know of its past history, and truth to tell, very little of its arrival...More that one neighbour commented on the extraordinary quickness and secrecy with which the alterations had been carried out. There was none of the usual screeching of saws and tapping of hammers associated with the opening of a new business. No workmen had been seen, nor had carts drawn up to unload great wooden cases marked THIS SIDE UP.

Yet the shop was open; and how splendid it looked!
At the end of the room was a staircase which lead to the top floor. This was occupied by the proprietor himself, an old man, clad in check trousers and coat and waistcoat of black velvet.

The walls of the room were covered with a striped paper, the floor was spread with a brightly patterned carpet. One wall was lined with shelves on which was disposed an extraordinary collection of magnificent dolls and toys.
There were little ducks that swam round on a pool of glass, a miniature blacksmith who beat his hammer on an anvil with engaging rhythm. Now a coach containing a fine lady who flirted at the window behind her raised fan; the coach was drawn by six high-stepping horses driven by a coachman who, at intervals, cracked his whip. Then there were two knights who ran a course, each horse in turn being forced in its haunches as its rider was thrown back under the impact of the victor's lance.

Sometimes special customers are invited upstairs. Are the special toys for sale? Do the customers ever come back down the staircase again?

What will happen next?

Will the shop, like the snark, 'softly and suddenly vanish away, and never be met with again' when Christmas is past?

Well, I don't rightly know. In the mean time we're having a magical time imagining.

Ah what a book! Even the pages without full size pictures are illustrated:

Yep, they really knew how to make good books back in 1924. Abe has a few of the 1985 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, edition, if you want one.

You know, the toyshop kinda reminds me of Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium:

Wouldn't it be great to have a toyshop like this open up in your neighbourhood just before Christmas? Imagine how much easier shopping for the nieces and nephews would be!

Speaking of Christmas present for nieces, which I am, does anybody have ideas for 11 year old girls? Please?!!


  1. That is a very lovely book! Ooo....I would definetely enjoy having that in our library.

  2. That looks like one good book! I'll have to keep an eye out for it:)

  3. That looks like a neat book. I'd love to see more substance and quality in toy shops today.

    11 year old girl...depends on their gifts and talents...a horse book - like a horse encyclopedia - all my girls love that...Breyer horses...jewelry...crafting or art supplies...anything feminine.

  4. This looks like a wonderful book. Thanks so much for sharing. I just placed a request for it at my library's website....somewhat surprised to find an older book since they seem to be disappearing from the shelves!

    A gift for an eleven year old girl...hm. Well, when I was that age my favorite Christmas present was a diary. I don't know what you're looking to spend, but what about a magazine subscription?

  5. I want to read it!!! You totally piqued my interest! What are the chances that I'll ever find it?! Well, there are LOTS of good books, right?!

    I'd get any 11yo cool writing utensils and cool writing paper you know the pretty kind that's so cool you almost don't want to use it? that's the kind for that 11yo or even a 32yo like me, for that matter! ;)



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