As Jem, the Shoemaker's boy, works at night in his father's shop he has three strange visitors asking for some silver keys. Jem must keep the silver keys safe, but how...?
Aiken's curious story about good and evil, love and faith, opens with the familiarity of a fairy tale. Jem's mother is grievously ill and his father, a shoemaker, sets off on a pilgrimage to a holy city to pray for her recovery. Jem is left alone to tend his mother and his father's business, and all is well until three ``strange little children'' and a knight clad in black appear at the door, demanding three silver keys. Vivid language fills the text with spine-tingling mystery, conjuring up a time and place in which anything might happen. Jem is wonderfully portrayed, a polite, hardworking boy with such phrases as ``botheration befall them'' at his disposal, and the happy ending, while pleasing, is underscored with eeriness as the forces of good and evil battle offstage. Delicate sketches suggest the sudden appearance of magic, of the spiritual, in everyday life; they are both haunting and reassuring. Particularly well drawn is the family reunion. A challenging, unusual book, rich in language and imagery. Ages 6-9.