Mortimer the raven likes wrapping himself up in a pre-chilled green tie. He enjoys pushing a worm or two through the Jones’s letter box and picking up keys for his collection. His new fixations include driving a lawn mower and eating homemade doughnuts from Lord Donisthorpe’s zoo. Not yet school-aged, Arabel is often making excuses for her pet raven. She tells her babysitter, Chris Cross, “He wants to help, really…the trouble is he doesn’t know how.” When Mortimer spills a bucket of soapy water, Arabel explains “Mortimer didn’t mean to knock over the bucket.” Mortimer may perturb Mr. and Mrs. Jones and the citizens of Rumbury, London, but Arabel cannot imagine her life without him.
First published in 1980, award-winning author Joan Aiken continues her
"Arabel and Mortimer" series with the three short stories -
"Mortimer’s Tie," "The Spiral Stair," and "Mortimer and the
Sword Excalibur" - contained in the book Arabel and Mortimer. In the first story, Mortimer, who only says “KAAARK” and “Nevermore”, makes friends with a parrot who only says “hard cheese.” While on a cruise with the Jones family, Mortimer shows his playful side with the parrot, but giraffes are another story. In
"Spiral Stair," Mortimer comes to believe that giraffes are doughnut stealers
who need to be taught a lesson. When visiting the zoo with Arabel, he gets the giraffes in quite a twist, but he also ends up saving them from a pair of criminals in the end.
One lesson the Jones family is constantly being reminded of is that Mortimer gets in trouble when he’s not being watched. In the story
"Mortimer and the Sword Excalibur," Mortimer gets the chance to sneak away when Arabel is called downstairs for a dress fitting. In just a short period of time, he gets a little too close to Mrs. Jones’s sewing machine, Mr. Walpole’s lawn mower, and two priceless treasures unearthed across the street. Mortimer may not have many fans, but he is a hero in Arabel’s eyes. She loves him unconditionally. Although she works very hard to keep Mortimer out of trouble, these three stories prove once again the best place for Mortimer to be is right by Arabel’s side.
Quentin Blake’s illustrations are telling. His fun, playful line drawings go with the comical theme of the book. Mortimer always looks so innocent in his illustrations, yet from the stories we know he’s a bird who always seems to blow it. Lying on his back with his feet up in the air, Mortimer looks perplexed, as if he’s clueless as to how the hose got wrapped around his entire body. Mortimer’s odd behaviors and peculiar tastes are illustrated, as well. He cannot simply eat a banana; he has to play with it, too. Joan Aiken writes “Mortimer unpeeled his banana by pecking the peel at the stalk end, and then, firmly holding on to the stalk, he whirled the banana round and round his head like a sling thrower.” To illustrate this scene, Quentin Blake draws Mortimer perched on the back of a kitchen chair. He’s standing on one leg, spinning the banana everywhere. No matter what the situation, though, Mortimer looks so desperate to be loved, especially when he’s being carried under Arabel’s arm. Blake’s illustrations ensure many children will fall in love with Mortimer, too. I recommend Arabel and Mortimer. It’s satisfying silliness!
Joan Aiken was born is Rye, East Sussex. In her lifetime, she won several awards for writing, including the Guardian Award and the Edgar Allan Poe Award. Well known for her
Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, she also wrote picture books, young adult books, poems, and short stories. Aiken died in 2004.
Quentin Blake is a well-known illustrator and author of children’s books. Born in 1932, he’s collaborated with authors such as Roald Dahl, Michael Rosen and Sid Fleischman to create many popular books for children. Although he’s always illustrated, he’s written his own books, as well. Titles include the
Mrs. Armitage series, Lovelykins, and Zagazoo. In 1999, he was appointed the first ever Children’s Laureate, and in 2002 he was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration.