Terri Windling,
The Changeling
(Random House, 1995)

It begins with such sadness, I was surprised it was written for children.

I'd chosen to read The Changeling because I admired and enjoyed the author, Terri Windling. Because it was a slim, large-print book intended for younger readers -- part of Random House's Bullseye Chiller series -- I expected it to be a quick read. And I was right.

What I didn't expect was the power and emotion locked in the words. This was for children? Sure ... but it's for adults, too.

The story begins with a man for whom fiddling was both his living and his life. But when consumption claimed his laughing twin sons, his music died ... and so, soon, did he. That left only his wife, their 3-year-old daughter Polly, and Charlie, the younger son who, at age 12, must now be the man of the house.

Hard times grew harder. Sources of income and support dried up, they failed in payments on their house and ended up moving from the city to the Blue Ridge Mountains, to live on Granny's farm. But it's here that Charlie learns of Irish and Native American faeries, sprites and beasties from all over the world, who are still real and making as much mischief as ever. And he learns in the hardest way possible about changelings, the inhuman replacements left in the place of children stolen by the faeries for their amusement.

The Changeling is a story about courage. It's also a story about music -- Charlie finds his strength and salvation in his father's old fiddle and in the lessons which honed his own mastery of the instrument. It's also about Irish folklore, and the migration of mythology to the New World.

Sure, it's a kids' book, and I recommend it highly for any young child's library. But adults should take the hour needed to read it, too. They won't be disappointed.

[ by Tom Knapp ]