'Midnight at Moonstone': the new children's book with a tremendous story and wonderful illustrationsA twelve year-old girl named Kit is none too welcome when she runs away to her grandfather's moribund costume museum and home - where her late mother was brought up. But can she save the building from a greedy, lying, cheating property developer - the splendidly named Mr Finn Scudder?
The author of the magical children's book Midnight at Moonstone (Oxford University Press) knows a great deal about costumes and museums - Lara Flecker trained as a costume maker for theatre and films, then moved on to the museum world, specialising in costume display. She has worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum for fifteen years as a senior costume display specialist.
Marlborough.news met her at the White Horse Bookshop launch for her first children's book - aimed at readers of between seven and eleven: "It's a very odd job! I mount costumes for display - historical and contemporary."
She says that costume displays - like the V&A's current Mary Quant exhibition - are incredibly popular and such exhibitions travel the world. Her favourite costumes? "The costumes I love most are the historical ones."
She has also written A Practical Guide to Costume Mounting: "It's a 'how to' book." She laughs. "Not a big seller!"
Lara Flecker spent her first nine years in Marlborough and has fond memories of the White Horse Bookshop as a haven filled with wonderful stories. She went to Marlborough College - where her father taught - for her sixth form years. Her parents now live in Great Bedwyn.
Lara has writing in her genes. She is the great-niece of James Elroy Flecker the novelist and poet - renowned especially for his verse drama Hassan. When he died aged thirty, his premature loss to English literature was described as the greatest such loss since the death of Keats.
The paperback Midnight at Moonstone is a very beautiful book with a stylish cover. It is not just an engaging story very well told, but has extraordinarily fine illustrations by Trisha Krauss, who was also at the Marlborough launch on Saturday (April 27).
The book - which is about seizing the moment, friendship and family as well as fantasy - is being well received by reviewers and by readers.
It is hardly a spoiler to reveal that the costumes in the Moonstone Museum come to life at midnight - at first giving Kit a terrible fright and later giving her allies and much excitement and pleasure.
While Lara says she has been 'scribbling away for years', she has now published a children's book that cries out to be a birthday present: "This is my real passion - in fact a combination of my two passions - costume and writing for children."
Midnight at Moonstone was originally going to be a picture book with colour pictures on good paper. When it was decided it should be a paperback, illustrator Trisha Krauss had to rethink things. Shading and washes do not appear well on the quality of paper used for paperbacks - it had to be pen and ink.
For inspiration she turned to the late nineteenth century black ink drawings of Aubrey Beardsley. The Moonstone illustrations are a revelation - intricate and delicate pen and ink drawings that must have taken a huge amount of skill and time to complete.
Trish Krauss is not new to children's books. She illustrated Lauren Child's Maude: The Not-So-Noticeable Shrimpton (Puffin). And later wrote and illustrated her own book - Charlotte's Very Own Dress (Random House).
As you might expect from a renowned specialist in costume like Lara Flecker, "All the costumes in Moonstone were inspired by real costumes from big international museums." They include an eighteenth century child’s gown in the V&A Museum and a nineteenth century kimono in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Recently the two of them held a paper doll making workshop at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. As Trisha says: "It was busy!"
One of the young visitors gave the Moonstone costume known as Lady Ann Hoops an imaginative make over (picture left). Another youngster put her in a very lively - if not very historically appropriate - shade of pink. What fun!
Both Lara and Trisha enjoy their work and have a serious motive - as their joint statement makes clear: “Since childhood, we have both independently loved historical costumes, fascinated by their fantastical shapes, elaborate fabrics, and the mystery of those who once wore them...our aim is to introduce children to this magical world from the past.”
Both, of course, have their feet firmly in the twentieth century. Lara lives in London with her husband and three children. As part of her 'day job', Trisha, an American living in London, produces illustrations - in colour! - for the New York Times Sunday edition.
Her latest illustrated a feature headlined 'I’m Done Mowing My Lawn'. Something to consider when we have to interrupt our reading of good imaginative books like Midnight at Moonstone to go out and mow the lawn.
Midnight at Moonstone is published by OUP at £6.99 - 271pp. It is now on sale at the White Horse Bookshop, Marlborough - and other good bookshops.