I must have read Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window shortly after it was published, in 1962. I was ten years old. It changed my life. The novel has everything one could possibly want in a tale: noble children, both present and long lost; a mad uncle and a beleaguered aunt; historical truth and philosophical speculation; an exotic Indian prince and the solid Americana of Concord, Massachusetts (Old North Bridge; Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott). Today, the adventure they are all caught up in would be called magical realism. Langton's deft touch manages to build a story both lighthearted and frightening—darkly, creepily frightening—and the whimsical ink drawings by Eric Blegvad are perfect (make sure you get an illustrated edition.)
If any book made me a writer, it is this one.
The amazing thing to me now is, the book holds up. Most of the fiction we loved as children goes flat under adult eyes, when cliché and bad writing make one wince, and regret. Not this one. I read it aloud to my own kids 20 years ago, I still read it from time to time, and love it. It's all about the architecture: not only the house itself—"a great wooden Gothic-Byzantine structure, truly in need of painting," where the key to the mystery is found—but the very real architecture of Eleanor and Edward's inner world. The Diamond in the Window is a child's book, and an adult's book—it is a reader's book. It is also, most emphatically, a writer's book.
This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews Holiday 2010 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.