Had a conversation on Friday with a book fair volunteer about Zilpha Keatley Snyder's vast body of work, then found a very dusty 1971 paperback of The Velvet Room (1965) while unearthing debris in 5th grader's room. I remember reading and loving this title in middle school, but could not remember what the book was about. This was not a book I owned as a child-- it was clearly something I picked up later. Why did it survive?
Robin's family is struggling to survive during the Great Depression. Her father is a musician, but his illness caused them to lose their home and become itinerant workers. When their car breaks down near an apricot farm, the father is offered a job and a place for the family to live. Robin meets the owner's daughter, an old woman, and gets to see inside the former mansion, wherein lies the velvet room of the title. There is a little bit of a mystery involving a girl named Bonita, and a happy ending for the family.
So what was so appealing about this book? Children seem to like to read about other people having a difficult time, and the depiction of the cabin the family has certainly is shocking to children of today, who are not used to such deprivation. Combine this with the velvet room, a place where only Robin is able to visit, and it's a winning combination very much like Edward's Mandy. Do children today long for a small place of their own? I remember having corners outside, under bushes and such, where I would play, pretending I was one of The Box Car Children. This is not a theme I have seen in recent literature, so perhaps its time has passed. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of this in my library, although it does appear to be back in print. This is one that many adults seem to remember fondly.