J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, describes this as having been her favorite childhood book. It was mine also -- and here are some reasons why. First, it is a terrific adventure story about a young girl who is feisty, opinionated, imperious and fiercely intelligent -- and who learns to control those qualities so that they become helpful instead of harmful.
Second, the book was written a few decades ago and -- surprise! it advocates old-fashioned values such as courage, honesty, kindness and gentle humor. One of the themes of this book is the redemptive power of love and forgiveness. How refreshing, in the era of crass, foulmouthed material from Disney and Nickelodeon being pushed by marketers as suitable fare for young children.
Third, the book is beautifully written. It does not condescend to young readers by assuming they cannot stretch their minds or vocabularies. It contains wonderful imaginative language, complex sentences, unfamiliar words and fantastic images, all wrapped in a story that is exciting enough to make many young readers curious about the unfamiliar elements. I loved this book so much as a child that I have kept my original paperback copy for 35 years and have bought hardcover copies for my children.