Wishyouwas by Alexandra Page. Illus. by Penny Neville-Lee
The appropriately named Penny Black is under the care of her austere Uncle Frank, the local Postmaster, waiting for her mother’s return from her duties as a pilot to deliver airmail. While in the post office she discovers a mysterious but cute rat-sized creature, with a naive mastery of grammar, that appears to be raiding letters. An unlikely friendship develops and before long Penny is involved in rescuing the tiny creature from an awful ratcatcher who has been hired to exterminate the vermin. The small creature, named Wishyouwas, is a charming participant in solving the mysteries of ‘lost letters’ alongside the normal mysteries of mail deliveries. Penny eventually becomes involved with the community of ‘lost letter’ creatures and soon must protect the entire population from the ratcatcher and his evil plots to make money from their presence.
This is an absolutely charming story, and you cannot help falling in love with Wishyouwas, the innocent and loyal friend to Penny. The setting of the 1950s post-war postal system is also appealing, with mailbags and post boxes, last-minute Christmas deliveries, and the underground postal rail system playing a part in setting a magical backdrop to this charming fantasy. The lost letter creatures employ intriguing and inventive strategies (akin to The Borrowers) for carrying out their work and their secrets deserve to be protected. With rats employed to create havoc and attack the mini-lost letter workers, there are moments of tension and fantasy violence. With the ratcatcher trying to throw Penny off his trail, there is fear that the gentle creatures will not survive.
Young readers should be able to deal with the tension, but this would make a wonderful read-aloud or a shared book with an adult. The scary moments with the rats and the ratcatcher’s snarling dog might not make this conducive for a calming bedtime story though.
Themes: Post World War II, Postal system, Fantasy, Friendship, Bravery.