First off, I solved this halfway through asking, but it took me some looking, so I figure I'll post the question, if for no other reason than that it will spread news of the book.

I read an excerpt of it in an anthology of children's novels, possibly a list of classics. One of the stories excerpted was "The Haunting" by Margaret Mahy. I remember there was also an excerpt set in a factory, or maybe a washing location with a machine, which had some rather vivid descriptions of what happened to little boys' limbs that got caught in the machine. I suppose it might have been from The Mangler although my impression was more of historical fiction than something supernatural, and I'm 90% certain all of the other stories were intended for children.

Anyhow, in this story, a group of children, with at least one boy and one girl, I think all related, staying in an old house, find some plates with an owl pattern on them. One of the girls either peels the surface off of the plate (I have this vague memory of a passage where she scratched at it with her fingernail and it peeled off like cellophane) or traces the shapes, and she starts assembling little paper dolls based on the pattern, I think setting them on a mantelpiece. The odd thing about it is that, as she creates the dolls, the patterns on the plates start to disappear, and then the dolls themselves. At the end of the excerpt, the children were divided on whether something strange was causing things to disappear or if it was due to a maid, who disapproved of them getting into old things in the attic.

If indeed, the disappearances were not mundane, it seems a fit for the site.

1 Answer 1


This is almost certainly Alan Garner's The Owl Service:

To bond the new family together they are spending a few weeks of the summer in an isolated valley in Wales, a few hours' drive from Aberystwyth. They occupy a fine house formerly owned by Alison's father, subsequently transferred to her to avoid death duty. ...

Alison hears scratching noises in the attic above her bed and persuades Gwyn to investigate. He finds stacks of dinner plates with a floral pattern. ...

Alison begins behaving peculiarly. She traces the pattern on the plate onto paper and folds the result to make an owl. Finding out that Gwyn has been in the attic, Nancy demands that Alison give up the plate. Alison asserts she has no right to it, and eventually produces a blank white plate.

I remember being pretty scared by the climactic scene as a ten-year-old.

  • That would be the one. :)
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 18:56
  • And a marvellous TV adaptation in the Seventies.
    – user83948
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 18:57
  • I was going to post an answer if there was nothing after I came back from shoveling the snow, but you beat me to it. :) Was it one you were familiar with?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 19:03
  • Yes as I mentioned I read it aged 10. The scene with the owls and the flower petals was pretty scary, but looking at the wiki article most of the subtext must have completely passed me by. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 22:03
  • 'Flowers, not owls'.
    – sueelleker
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 17:38

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