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Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll #97: The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton

#97 The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton (1962)
20 points

A fantasy, a mystery, a spiritual odyssey — and the most underrated children’s book of all time. Here’s hoping that her Newbery Honor lesser book, the Fledgling, leads more children to this masterpiece. – Beverly Spitzer

Magic in Concord, Massachusetts.  Plus Emerson and Thoreau.  This book (and its sequels) struck a deep chord in me early on. – Anne Nesbet

Magic, family secrets and puzzles in verse are combined to create engaging adventures for a brother and sister team that want to save their family’s house from being repossessed by the bank.  This is not like other magical adventure books- there is something so immediate here that the reader is drawn completely into the story.  There are interesting references to historical figures of the Transcendalist movement that give it texture and depth.  I love this remarkable book- and am sad that it has not really attained the classic status I think it should have. The rest of the series is not as outstanding. – Christine Kelly

Meet our first out-of-print classic.  While folks remember this book dearly (the quotes alone will convince you of that) that didn’t stop it from running out of print over time.  A strange little number it’s usually forgotten in favor of Langton’s mildly better known Newbery Honor winner The Fledgling.  Spoiler Alert: Guess which of the two didn’t make the list?

The description from Kirkus reads: “An old New England house about to be usurped by creditors, is the setting. Tracing valuable treasure to save it,- the problem. The solid citizens of Concord have threatened Aunt Lily with eviction unless she can scrape up the back taxes on her house. Determined to help, Eddy and Eleanor begin rummaging through the attic and discover a hidden room where two children lived years ago. According to Aunt Lily, Ned and Nora disappeared from their beds along with her fiance, Prince Krishna. As Eddy and Eleanor settle down in the mysterious beds, they are thrown headlong into a series of dual dreams –exciting and colorful — each inspired by Uncle Freddy’s quotations from Thorean and Emerson or by a possible clue to the hidden treasure. The bubble dream climaxes a long odyssey.”

Finding information about the book can be tricky.  Seems that the only person to give this book adequate attention is Anita Silvey.  This came from her The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators: “Langton’s earliest attempts were ‘under the spell of those remembered English stories of gardens and kings and castles,’ but it was Eleanor Estes’s Moffat stories that set her on the right path.  ‘Reading about the Moffats,’ Langton has said, ‘I understood that children’s books didn’t ahve to be about princesses in imaginary countries.  They could be about ordinary people here and now.’  Later Silvey says, “Good versus evil, right versus wrong, justice versus injustice – these values permeate Langton’s books.  Like the transcendentalists, her characters are willing to risk personal well-being in their pursuit of more idealistic goals.”

That’s one resource.  Then in Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children’s Book, Gregory Maguire chose The Diamond in the Window as his children’s book of choice.  Says he, “All these years later, I live in Concord, hardly a mile from the house memorialized by the book.  I dream a different series of dreams.  Dreaming and examining what might be of value within the subconscious images is the start of my writing life every day.  Thinking – about concepts with capital letters like Truth, like Wickedness – powers my work till bedtime.  In gratitude, I keep The Diamond in the Window and its sequels close to hand.  My world, lit by diamonds, seems enormous these days.”

Kirkus said of it, “Reminiscent in structure of Alice In Wonderland, it gives full vent to fantasy in following the escapades of Eddy and Eleanor in a world of dreams and nightmares.”

Naturally, there are the kooky covers:

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Yay, a new book to discover. If I can just get my hands on a copy.

  2. I have the whole series. There’s really nothing else like them out there–children’s fantasy centering around the Transcendentalists!

  3. There was something creepy about these books, to me – not enough to scare me off, but just enough to make reading them an adventure, each time. Even re-reading them as an adult, I felt an echo of that old half-nervous, half-excited thrill when I opened each book. And I have to say that no college professor has ever made Transcendentalism quite so understandable as these books did!

  4. I had never heard of this book before today. Must see if I can track down a copy.

  5. So far, this is the only one I haven’t read (though there’s another coming up today!). I think this will make a lovely reading list!

  6. And that was NOT a spoiler! Maybe it was just a bit of a gloat that I know what’s coming! 🙂

  7. Wow, already gobsmacked by a why-have-I-never-heard-of-this-and-I-NEED-to title on the first day of the countdown! I am so excited for the next couple months!

  8. I adore her two books about Grace Jones–the chapter about the victrola and the phone call in Her Majesty, Grace Jones used to be my absolutely reliable laugh-inducer. Having this series still ahead of me is a great feeling.

  9. I love this book, and it really should have been on my top ten. I can’t believe it didn’t make the list last time!

  10. Genevieve says

    Grrlpup, I love the Grace Jones books too! Have never met anyone else who’s read them – we had them in my elementary school classroom library (but I think I was the only one in the class who read them). Did not recall that it was the same author.

  11. Ooh, I don’t know this one, but I definitely want to get myself a copy now!

  12. ChrisinNY says

    I will always be a bit sad that I could not get my daughter to appreciate this one. I think it was very much that it was never picked up by her at the “right time”, similarly to A Wrinkle in Time. Love, love this one. (It didn’t make it last time on the list did it?)

  13. I just showed my department head the list of 100: she screamed out loud that this made the list. Her favorite book of all time! She’s so excited!

  14. Sooo glad this book made the list. This is my fav. book from childhood. Just re-read it a month ago, and its still powerful- there really are some very subtle yet powerful vignettes and lots of great adventure and mystery. The thing with this book is that it kind of has a small window of opportunity to really grab kids- I’d say above average readers in 4 & 5th grade are its ideal market. Before 4th grade, its ideas/themes may be a little to complex, and once you hit puberty, its no longer “cool” (until your an adult again). Great for late-elementary and available in most metro areas’ library systems…

  15. I just have to add my voice. . . This book transformed my childhood and even at age 55 I still recall entire tracts from both the Diamond in the Window and the Swing in the Summerhouse.

  16. For some reason tonight, this book came to mind. I read it and “The Swing in the Summerhouse” when i was 10 years old, and was entranced. I read it more than once. It fired up my imagination and gave me chills along my spine and opened me up to the Transcendentalists.

    I am so glad i remembered the title and now have another book on my cart at amazon. I will get my hands on it and read this book again.