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Book Review

This fantasy book by Elizabeth Winthrop is the first of two books about "The Castle in the Attic" and is published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House Inc.

The Castle in the Attic is written for kids ages 10 to 13. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

When 10-year-old William's beloved housekeeper decides to return to England, William is disappointed and desperately wants her to stay. Elinore Phillips has been the Lawrence family's housekeeper since William was a baby, and she and William have a close relationship. As a goodbye present, but before she actually leaves, Elinore gives William a family heirloom — a miniature stone and wooden castle that has been passed down in her family for generations.

Later that evening, as William plays with the castle and its metal knight, William's touch brings the miniature knight to life. Sir Simon tells William about the kingdom he came from, how the wizard Alastor robbed him of his kingdom and how he ended up in the castle as a metal toy knight. Now that he is alive again, Sir Simon wants to return to his kingdom and take it back from Alastor.

William doesn't tell his parents or friends about Sir Simon; he tries to tell Elinore about talking with Sir Simon, but she thinks the knight is still just a metal toy. In the castle, Sir Simon practices his swordsmanship skills. When Williams asks Sir Simon about his plans for getting back to the kingdom, Sir Simon shows William a riddle written above the door about a lady, a squire and a knight going on a quest. Sir Simon isn't sure who the lady and the squire will be, or when it will be time to go, but wants to be prepared.

William still wants to find a way to keep Elinore from returning to England. When he and Sir Simon discover that Sir Simon's token can be used to shrink things, William has an idea. Using this token that once belonged to Alastor, William shrinks Elinore and puts her in the castle with Sir Simon. Elinore is not happy about this, but unfortunately William and Sir Simon aren't able to return Elinore to her true size without the other half of the token, which Alastor still has. Elinore decides not to speak to William until William comes into the castle. As William wrestles with what to do, he also talks with Sir Simon. Sir Simon reminds William of the riddle on the wall. The knight and the lady are in the castle; now they just need the squire. William decides to shrink himself and enter the castle.

Once there, he apologizes to Elinore, and then trains with Sir Simon for the journey back to Sir Simon's kingdom. William packs a backpack with tools and supplies for the journey, and Sir Simon leaves the token with Elinore.

When Sir Simon is fooled by a mirage in the forest, William is left to continue the journey on his own. Using his wits and the tools in his backpack, he makes it safely through the forest and to the castle. William successfully battles the dragon guarding the castle and applies for a job entertaining Alastor. In the castle gallery, William sees people, including Sir Simon, who have been turned into metal statues by Alastor. To do this, Alastor used a token to put a spell on them.

William realizes it is up to him to save the kingdom, which is suffering from a famine and has a dangerous forest because of Alastor. As William entertains Alastor with gymnastic routines, he watches for the right time to battle for the kingdom. When the opportunity comes, William is ready. He knocks Alastor down, takes his token necklace and destroys the mirror Alastor used to reveal other people's inner secrets. Sir Simon's childhood nurse, who is in the castle with Alastor, uses one of the tokens to turn Alastor to metal and send him to the toy castle in William's attic.

William brings Sir Simon and the rest of the statues to life. Because Alastor's spells are broken, the forest is no longer dangerous, and the famine ends. Sir Simon takes his place in the kingdom, family and friends are reunited, and laughter and rejoicing return to the kingdom.

Sir Simon gives one of Alastor's tokens to William to take back with him. It matches the half Elinore is keeping, so she and William can use the tokens to return to their own world. William leaves another of Alastor's tokens — a disk of destruction — with Sir Simon.

After a celebratory feast, William returns home. Elinore is waiting in the castle. They leave the castle together, turn each other back to their normal size and walk to the bus station. Elinore keeps the metal statue of Alastor and the token. William returns home for dinner with his father.

Christian Beliefs

God, the Devil, heaven, hell and the concepts of good and evil are referenced in the story. Sir Simon fasts and prays in the castle chapel the night before he and William leave on their journey. The chapel in the castle is referred to as a holy place. As they get ready to depart, Sir William asks Elinore to give them a blessing. William plays the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" on his recorder during the journey, and words of the song are incorporated into the text.

Other Belief Systems

Magic is a prominent aspect of this book. Alastor is a wizard and casts spells on people. Sir Simon refers to Alastor's token as a magic token that has evil magical powers on one side. Alastor sometimes asks Sir Simon to help him make potions and salves for stomachaches and bone injuries. When Elinore tries to explain something to William, she references the world of magic and compares it to the natural world. The townspeople believe that magic is the tool Alastor used to defeat Sir Simon. Lord Luck, good luck charms and luck in general are also referenced in the story.

Authority Roles

William is an only child and lives with his mom and dad in New York. His parents are married, and both work full time. William's mom is a pediatrician and a member of the school board. She has night office hours and monthly evening meetings for the school board. When she is home before William is asleep, it is a tradition for them to talk about the day together. William and his parents eat breakfast together in the mornings, talking about school and work.

When William's parents aren't home at night for dinner, he and Elinore eat together. Elinore stays with the family during the week and goes to her own apartment on the weekends. William's parents appreciate, respect and trust Elinore. They are sad she is returning to England and want her to stay in contact.

William's parents each talk to William about Elinore leaving. William's mom gives William a hug and affirms him. William's dad indicates he will try to be home to eat dinner with William on the nights William's mom has to work or attend a meeting.

William's dad builds a moat for the castle. It is one of the first projects William remembers his dad following through on and completing.

Elinore attends William's meets and sometimes his practices. She also helps him with his gymnastic routines at home. Elinore encourages William, but also gently expresses her disappointment when William makes bad choices. At the same time, she gives grace and space for William to own up to choices, make better decisions and apologize as needed. After William takes two of Elinore's belongings because he hopes she won't leave without them, he eventually has the courage to return them. When he does, Elinore shows compassion, kindness and understanding. After William apologizes for shrinking her, Elinore and William are able to restore their relationship and move on. Elinore gives suggestions on how William can make his gymnastic routine stronger when he is training for his journey with Sir Simon.

William's gymnastics coach works the team hard and challenges William to work with excellence. William likes his coach, and the coach shows Elinore how to spot William in his routines.

Sir Simon chides William for deceiving Elinore. He affirms William when William is polite, respectful, makes good choices and shows courage. He gives William discreet guidance about the decision to shrink himself and come into the castle, but also gives him time to think and make the decision on his own. Sir Simon is gentle toward Elinore after William shrinks her, noticing that she is tired and surprised. Sir Simon physically helps her into the castle and then shows her around as the host. He gives her the master bedroom and sleeps downstairs where he can guard the fire.

Alastor threatens people. He puts spells on them when they don't do what he wants or when he thinks they have broken a law. He doesn't have compassion for people when they don't have enough food to eat. He insults people and screams at them. Alastor turns the castle guards against each other; the guards are scared of him. Despite their fear, the guards protect William when Alastor wants to know how William got past the dragon and into the castle.


William battles the dragon guarding the castle and stabs it. The blow is described, but it is not graphic. William uses a gymnastic routine to knock Alastor down.


Sir Simon kisses Elinore's hand.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • How does William feel when Elinore decides to move back home to England to be with her family?
  • When has someone close to you made a decision to leave?
  • How did the decision and your feelings affect your relationship with that person?
  • How is the relationship now?

  • Why doesn't William want to tell his parents or friends about Sir Simon?

  • What do you do when something happens that you're not sure you want to tell others about?

  • What are some of the obstacles William encounters on the journey back to Sir Simon's kingdom?

  • What are some of the obstacles you have encountered in life when you have been trying to accomplish something?

  • When has someone you know shown courage?

  • What did it look like?
  • What can you do to become braver?

Additional Comments/Notes

This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 to 13




Elizabeth Winthrop






Record Label



Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House Inc.


On Video

Year Published



California Young Reader Medal Winner, 1989; Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award Winner, 1987


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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