Diana Wynne Jones is another favorite author of mine, one who I feel is underappreciated. Howl’s Moving Castle is one of her more popular books. It appears on several honors lists including as a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Honor Book, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, an ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults, an ALA Notable Children’s Book, a Book Sense 76 Pick, and a Horn Book Fanfare (Retrieved August 3, 2009 from http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780064410342/Howls_Moving_Castle/index.aspx).
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
ISBN-10: 0688062334 ISBN-13: 9780688062330
City and Publisher: New York: Greenwillow
Copyright Date: 1986
Author’s Website: http://www.leemac.freeserve.co.uk/
Reader’s Annotation: Sophie knows as the oldest of three sisters she is not destined to amount to much. But when the Witch of the Waste casts a spell turning her into an old woman she sets out to find her fortune anyway, and meets a heartless magician and a fire demon that live in a castle which trundles around the fields above Market Chipping.
Plot Summary: As the oldest of three sisters, Sophie is resigned to a life of trimming (and talking to) hats in her stepmother’s haberdashery. But when the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old woman, she knows it will be impossible to remain in her quiet life and sets out to seek her fortune instead. Sophie’s habit of talking to inanimate objects, as well as the freedom she now has to act like a grumpy, nosy old lady, wins her a job as a cleaning lady in the moving castle of the Wizard Howl, an utterly cold blooded and heartless man who is said to suck the souls of young girls. But, just like Sophie, nothing in the land is what it seems, and she must work out what’s really going on in order to escape the witch’s curse.
Critical Evaluation: Diana Wynne Jones writes books in which the plot twists and turns, teasing the reader with the possibility of working out what’s going to happen next. By the time the book reaches the climax, a cohesive ending seems impossible, and yet Jones ties everything together neatly. Howl’s Moving Castle is populated with fascinating and endearing characters. Howl is constantly described as flawed, Sophie is grumpy, and Howl’s apprentice Michael is clueless. And yet all they are all utterly charming. Sophie and Howl’s budding romance is never explicitly stated until the very end of the book, but a reader can sense it and will be rooting for its success. Howl’s Moving Castle is a book to read once and then trot out whenever sickness or unhappiness strikes. It is a real gem.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 and up
Curriculum Ties: Howl’s Moving Castle is a great pleasure read. It would also be interesting in a study of how a book’s plot develops.
Booktalking Ideas: Pretend to be a grumpy old lady with a cane and talk about how Howl is a scallywag. Then explain that Sophie is a young lady under a curse. Mention that the book was made into an Anime by Miyazaki.
Influences from Other Genres: Folktales
Other Information: Howl’s Moving Castle was made into an animated film by Hayao Miyazaki.
Challenge Issues: Howl’s Moving Castle may come under the same kind of fire that Harry Potter did, and reminding patrons that the library may not censor ideas is a good defense. All in all, it is not a particularly offensive book.
About the Author: Born in England in 1934, Diana Wynne Jones feels that her writing was shaped by her childhood experiences living during World War II. She began writing children’s books when her third son was nine years old, having been encouraged to write by reading children’s literature. She has now written more than seventy books for children, young adults, and regular adults. (More details at http://www.leemac.freeserve.co.uk/autobiog.htm)