Obsessive Nostalgia Disorder Monday: A Spell Is Cast

A Spell Is Cast by Eleanor Cameron, illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush. Little, Brown and Company, 1964.

So, there was this book.

I thought I might have checked it out from the library in Shawnee, Oklahoma, while visiting my grandparents one summer. I couldn't remember much about it, except that it took place around Carmel, California, and there was a unicorn in it. Or a unicorn charm. Or maybe something to do with chess? I remembered it felt old-fashioned, but with a dreamlike quality. That was all I had to go on.

Which meant it took me years to find the name of this book.

One night, Google finally came through for me. Through some miracle, I finally found a combination of search words that worked.  Something like "book," "Carmel," "unicorn charm," "chess." And suddenly, I saw a title: A Spell Is Cast. I clicked on the title, and lo and behold, I remembered the cover! After over a decade of searching, at last I knew the name of this book.

Last month, I worked the Scholastic Book Fair at the girls' school. I've told you before that I went to this school, too, for exactly one year. It was an ordinary elementary school, not a performing arts and science magnet, like it is now. During a lull, I wandered over to the Cs to see if the school had a copy of A Spell is Cast, since the copies I found for sale online were a bit high.

They had three copies. And one had the blue cover, just as I remembered.

I opened it, and looked at the library card. I guess I didn't check the book out in Oklahoma. This must have been one of the books that the fabulous librarian, Mrs. Loper, had put in my hand. She was always trying to get me to read something other than Nancy Drew.

I'm pretty sure the little doodle face at the top of the card is my handiwork, too.

This is the second time I've found an old library card with my name on it. They must have gone to computers only a short time later. I'm trying to remember other books I checked out that year. I came up short on The Headless Cupid and two of the Nancy Drews.

Big Sis was a sweetheart and checked the book out for me. She had to re-check it a couple times - I had to get through all those Halloween books first - but I finally finished it.

The book is about a young girl, Cory, who has just arrived at the airport by plane. She is supposed to be staying with her wealthy uncle and grandmother, but no one is at the airport to meet her. She tries to phone, but the number is unlisted. Finally, an older woman who was on the same plane offers to give her a ride. As they head for the house, it begins to rain. They run into a local boy, Peter, caught in the rain and pick him up, too. The car runs out of gas. The rain has let up, so Cory is told to leave most of her luggage with the couple, and she and Peter head up to the house. Peter is a member of an Explorers Club, and convinces Cory to take a rocky shortcut. After more starts and stops, she finally arrives at her family's home.

There is an old Scottish couple who keeps the house. It turns out that Stephanie, Cory's stage actress adoptive mother, had told everyone that Cory was coming the next day!

There are secrets to be learned, such as the fact that Stephanie never actually adopted Cory.

Cory gets to stay in her mother's old bedroom, with the giant four-poster bed. There is a carved mask of Stephanie's face on the wall, hand-carved by her Uncle Dirk.

Cory becomes feverishly ill for a few days. This is the part of the book I remembered the best. She dreams about hearing sad, beautiful music, and finding an exquisite chess set, with unicorns for knights.

She makes friends during her stay. Peter invites her to meet the other explorers. She also makes friends with a woman named Laurel, who helps her find her unicorn necklace on the beach.

Cory, who has moved in and out of homes and schools all her life, begins to feel like she has finally found a home, even if it doesn't include Stephanie. She tries to convince her grandmother to let her stay.

There are more secrets that unfold near the end of the book, all working up to a neat resolution.

This is the only Eleanor Cameron book I've read. She is better known for her Mushroom Planet books. The great '60s illustrations are by the Krushes, who also illustrated the U.S. editions of The Borrowers by Mary Norton.

After I posted a picture of the book and card on Facebook, a retired teacher friend of mine was inspired to pull out her copy. She received the book as a gift when it was brand new! She re-read it and enjoyed it, as well.

Is there a book from your childhood that has stayed with you for years, but that you cannot remember well enough to locate? Have you read this book, or any other books by Eleanor Cameron?

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  1. WOWZA, this is so wild that this has happened to you, not once but twice! Amazing! and this looks like just the type of book I would have ADORED when I was young. I had a similar thing happen to me with trying to find a long lost book - for me it was The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes - I had no idea what it was called, who wrote it, nothing. I think I finally found it on that Stump The Bookseller site, someone else had been trying to find it too, and the person who finds books on that site found it!!!

    1. It was fun re-reading it, mostly because I'd forgotten most of it! :) I loved The Witch Family - thanks for recommending it, back in the day. I need to get it for the girls next year.

      I need to remember more of what I would have checked out in fifth grade. I know The Headless Cupid and every Nancy Drew book... But then, I also checked out A Wrinkle in Time SIX TIMES that year. And we ordered stuff from every Scholastic catalog, too.

  2. Amazing! Love those old library cards and wow- you actually found your name on it. For the second time! I didn't go to the public library when I was little (they're few and poor and I didn't know we had any close to my home), but I did borrow books from the school library and for years I wasn't able to locate the "O Sullivan Twins" St Clare's book by Enid Blyton (I was obsessed with the series). The title was changed into "A Heroine in St Clare's" when I read it, but in later editions it was faithfully translated as "The O' Sullivan Twins", so for years I thought this book wasn't published anymore. But I remembered there's a fire in the book and a girl named Margery does a rescue so I googled all that and came up with the book -and I finally bought it when I was in my early twenties.

    1. I have never read anything by Enid Blyton! She was never as popular here as in other countries. I definitely need to remedy that soon.

    2. I think you' ll like her books! I think The Mysteries Series and St Clare's were my favorite book series when I was about 9-14, so they might be perfect for Big Sis right now. The Malory Towers books too.
      Her books are fun!

    3. Once I found out about them, I figured they would be up my alley. If I remember correctly, the last time I checked, our library didn't have much. Things could have changed, or I'll make sure they're on our wish list! :)

  3. I don't know about the book or author but it's just the type I loved when I was younger. Just looking at the cover made me think about the old teen books I loved when I first learned English! I used to read all the Nancy Drew in my school library! What a trip down memory lane indeed!

    1. The illustrations and typeface are definitely of another era, right? Even in the 1980s, the book looked old-fashioned. :)


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