Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

"You were just three years old, Meggie," Mo began. "I remember how we celebrated your birthday. We gave you a picture book — you know, the one about the sea serpent with a toothache winding itself around the lighthouse. . . "

Meggie nodded. It was still in her book box — Mo had twice given it a new dress. "We?" she asked.

"Your mother and I . . ." Mo picked some straw off his pants. "I could never pass by a bookshop. The house where we lived was very small — we called it our shoebox, our mouse-hole, we had all sorts of names for it — and that very day I'd bought yet another crate full of books from a second-hand bookseller. Elinor would have liked some of them," he added, glancing at her and smiling. "Capricorn's book was there too."

"You mean it belonged to him?" Meggie looked at Mo in surprise, but he shook his head.

"No, but . . .well, let's take it all in order. Your mother sighed when she saw all those new books and asked where we were going to put them, but then of course she helped me to unpack the crate. I always used to read aloud to her in the evenings -"

"You? You read aloud?"

"Yes, every evening. Your mother enjoyed it. That evening she chose Inkheart. She always did like tales of adventure — stories full of brightness and darkness. She could tell you the names of all King Arthur's knights, and she knew everything about Beowulf and Grendel, the ancient gods and the not-quite-so-ancient heroes. She liked pirate stories, too, but most of all she loved books that had at least a knight or a dragon or a fairy in them. She was always on the dragon's side, by the way. There didn't seem to be any of them in Inkheart, but there was any amount of brightness and darkness, fairies and goblins. Your mother liked goblins as well: hobgoblins, bugaboos, the Fenoderee, the folletti with their butterfly wings, she knew them all. So we gave you a pile of picture books, sat down on the rug beside you, and I began to read."

Meggie leaned her head against Mo's shoulder and stared at the empty wall. She saw herself against its dirty white background as she had looked in old photos: small, with plump legs, very fair hair (it had darkened a little since then), her little fingers turning the pages of big picture books.

"We enjoyed the story," her father went on, "It was exciting, well written, and full of all sorts of amazing creatures. Your mother loved a book to lead her into an unknown land, and the world in to which Inkheart led her was exactly what she liked. Sometimes the story took a very dark turn, and whenever the suspense got too much, your mother put a finger to her lips, and I read more quietly, although we were sure you were too busy with your own books to listen to a sinister story that you wouldn't have understood anyway. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Night had fallen long ago; it was autumn, with drafts coming in through the windows. We had lit a fire — there was no central heating in our shoebox of a house, but it had a stove in every room — and I began reading the seventh chapter. That's when it happened —"

Mo stopped. He stared ahead of him as if lost in his own thoughts.

"What?" whispered Meggie. "What happened, Mo?"

Her father looked at her. "They came out," he said.