The Midnight Horse

The Midnight Horse

3.6 3
by Sid Fleischman, Peter Sis
     
 

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On a coach bound for Cricklewood, the orphan boy Touch caught his first glimpse of the haunt named The Great Chaffalo. According to rumor, he was once a famous magician who could turn a pile of straw into a horse. Now, Touch needs the ghost's help in order to escape his wicked great-uncle. So, with an armload of straw and a determined spirit, Touch makes his plea

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Overview

On a coach bound for Cricklewood, the orphan boy Touch caught his first glimpse of the haunt named The Great Chaffalo. According to rumor, he was once a famous magician who could turn a pile of straw into a horse. Now, Touch needs the ghost's help in order to escape his wicked great-uncle. So, with an armload of straw and a determined spirit, Touch makes his plea to The Great Chaffalo — and, magically, a horse appears!But can magic save Touch when his great-uncle’s schemes grow even more villainous?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
What Leon Garfield does for Victorian England, Newbery Medalist Fleischman ( The Whipping Boy ) does for the Red Raven Inn in Cricklewood, N.H.--population 217, ``216 Fine Folks & 1 Infernal Grouch.'' The grouch is wicked Judge Wigglesforth who, having cheated his nephew Touch out of his rightful inheritance, threatens to send him to an orphan's home. ``With a bit of straw and a touch of midnight,'' Touch is befriended by the ghost of a magician, the Great Chaffalo. By the story's end, Wigglesforth gets his comeuppance, Touch wins the beautiful Sally and the Red Raven Inn has been saved. From the opening stormy coach ride to the Keystone Kops chase at the end, Fleischman's story crackles with action, eccentric characters and what the blacksmith calls ``mysticiation.'' Sis's black-and-white drawings, appropriately mysterious and quirky, perfectly match this deftly told tale of innocence and villainy. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)
Children's Literature
An orphan boy with the unusual name of Touch is the main character in this magical adventure story. Touch is on a coach going in search of his only relative, a great uncle, Judge Henry Wigglesforth. Along the way he encounters a kindly blacksmith, the mysterious shifty-eyed Otis Cratt, and the ghost of a once famous magician known as The Great Chaffalo. When the Judge turns out to be most unwelcoming and a very shady character trying to swindle both Touch and the young innkeeper Sally Hoskins, Touch tries to fight back. But he is unsuccessful and must flee the wrath of Wigglesforth. He knows that The Great Chaffalo is able to turn a bundle of straw into a magnificent horse. Bravely he sets out to find the magician and ask him to produce a horse. Magically the horse appears and Touch almost succeeds in getting away. As always, Fleischman has produced a great narrative that is sure to delight his loyal readers as well as those just discovering his wonderful books. 2004 (orig. 1990), HarperTrophy/HarperCollins, Ages 8 to 12.
—Sylvia Firth
School Library Journal
It's ``raining bullfrogs'' when readers first meet the skinny and bareheaded orphan boy Touch with his hair ``as curly as wood shavings.'' Touch is en route--by horse-drawn coach--to Cricklewood, New Hampshire, where he will meet his great-uncle and only surviving relative, Judge Henry Wigglesforth. The boy's traveling companions are an honest blacksmith, a mysterious thief, and a shadowy figure on the coach's roof. `` `Merciful powers!' '' the blacksmith exclaims, `` `It's The Great Chaffalo!' '' It seems that since the magician became a ghost, he has developed the disconcerting habit of turning up in odd and unexpected places. How he becomes Touch's ally against the conniving Judge Wigglesforth readers will delight in discovering for themselves. The process is pure pleasure. Fleischman--who has always had a fondness for magicians--has himself become a master magician with words, producing dazzling and seemingly effortless rhectorical effects from his writer's sleeve. How he does it is his secret, but it surely has something to do with inspired plotting, masterful timing, and a wonderful ear for comic language, lively dialogue, and the best similes and metaphors this side of Leon Garfield. The illustrations by the talented Sis perfectly capture the spirit of the text while complementing its substance. The book is part ghost story, part tall tale, part picaresque, and totally enjoyable, for it is that old enchanter Sid Fleischman at his magical best. --Michael Cart, Beverly Hills Public Library

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060722166
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
07/27/2004
Edition description:
Reissue
Pages:
96
Sales rank:
862,837
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.19(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Man on the Roof

It was raining bullfrogs. The coach lurched and swayed along the river road like a ship in rough seas. Inside clung three passengers like unlashed cargo.

One was a blacksmith, another was a thief, and the third was an orphan boy named Touch.

Touch was skinny and bareheaded, with hair as curly as wood shavings. Despite the blustering April night, he felt in the best of spirits. He'd never ridden high and mighty in a coach before, and meant to enjoy every passing mile. His usual way of travel was on his two lanky legs.

"Raining bullfrogs," the blacksmith said again.

"I noticed," said Touch.

"Boy, is that your stomach growling? You hungry, lad? You're so thin a body would have to shake out your clothes to find you. Touch is your name, is it?"

Touch's clothes were, in fact, acres too big, but they were the best fit he'd been able to get from a ragman's castoffs in Portsmouth. In the lining of the coat he'd found a gold piece hidden away, and that had enabled him to give up the fine art of walking, for the coach.

The blacksmith dug into one of his pockets and produced a lump of dark bread. "Put this in your stomach, lad."

Touch accepted the bread with thanks, but added, "A crumb or two will suit me. I expect my great-uncle will have a feast laid out for me when we get to Cricklewood. We never met before, but I wrote him a letter I was coming."

"Who's your great-uncle?"

"Wigglesforth. Judge Henry Wigglesforth. Maybe you know him."

The blacksmith's hand, big enough to span a pie plate, gave his jaws a scratching, thoughtful rub. "Of course I do, Touch.Everybody does."

A blast of thunder filled the air, and the thief took a quick look back over his shoulder. He was a longarmed man with his face wrapped around with a great brown muffler so that he looked to Touch like a loosely wrapped mummy. Glancing back over his shoulder seemed to be habit, for Touch had noticed him do it before, as if the man thought someone might be following him.

"Stranger, what did you say your name was?" asked the blacksmith.

"I didn't," answered the thief. In fact, he had, but he changed his name more often than his stockings, and now he couldn't remember what name he'd bestowed upon himself.

"I thought you said Cratt."

"Otis Cratt," added Touch, as if to confirm the blacksmith's memory.

A short grumble shot through the mummy wrappings. "Then that must be my name. Otis Cratt, to be sure. And good-night."

He locked his arms as if to sleep. But hours later when the blacksmith checked through his leather billfold, Touch noticed Otis Cratt's eyes drawn to it like a compass needle to true north.

After a while, Mr. Hobbs, for that was the blacksmith's name, fell into a contented doze. Touch was content to watch the rain.

In a flash of lightning, he caught sight of Otis Cratt's long arm. It was weaving like a snake stalking its prey, reaching out for the blacksmith's billfold.

Touch was too astonished to speak.

The chiming of a watch lifted the blacksmith's eyelids. The thieving hand retreated in a flash. Mr. Hobbs hauled up the gold chain across his vest to glance at his watch. But there was no watch at the end of the chain.

Sleepily, the blacksmith chuckled and poked the empty end of the chain back into his vest pocket. Otis Cratt rewrapped the muffler around his face. But not before Touch had got a look. A face rough as moldy cheese, and eyes as deep as knotholes.

But a watch continued striking the hour overhead, as clear as church bells.

The blacksmith came fully awake, and his gaze

shot upward at the roof of the coach. "Merciful powers!" he said, and laughed. "He's come for a ride! It's The Great Chaffalo! With his watch as big as a turnip!"

"Chaffalo?" Touch muttered.

"The magician! The haunt, lad! If you want to see a live ghost, stick your head out the window. He's on the roof."

Touch wasn't certain that he wanted to lay eyes on a haunt, but he stuck his head out into the rain.

In the pale light of the coach lantern, he could see the coachman with his face turned back. And on the roof, he caught sight of a long leather boot glistening in the rain.

A merry voice shot through the air. "Drive on, coachman! And watch that pothole dead ahead!"

Touch was surprised that his heart wasn't in his throat. He blinked away the rain and wished he could see better.

They hit the pothole, and Mr. Hobbs grabbed Touch by the collar to keep him from flying out the window.

"Did you get a good look?" asked the blacksmith, hauling Touch back into the coach. "He ain't shy, that one. He was famous once. That chiming watch was given him by the King of Prussia."

Otis Cratt sat unconcerned, wrapped in his muffler against the cold.

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Meet the Author

Sid Fleischman wrote more than sixty books for children, adults, and magicians. Among his many awards was the Newbery Medal for his novel The Whipping Boy. The author described his wasted youth as a magician and newspaperman in his autobiography The Abracadabra Kid. His other titles include The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, a novel, and three biographies, Sir Charlie: Chaplin, The Funniest Man in the World; The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West; and Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini.

Peter Sís is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and filmmaker. Among his works are three Caldecott Honor books: The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain; Tibet: Through the Red Box; and Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei. He has illustrated five other novels by Sid Fleischman, including the Newbery Medal book The Whipping Boy. He lives with his family in New York State.

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