In this witty and moving fairy tale from Pullman (The Golden Compass
; I Was a Rat!
), a scarecrow comes miraculously to life in a wartorn England. "Remember where you belong. Be courteous, and be brave, and be honorable, and be kind. And best of blooming luck," says the farmer who creates the straw-stuffed hero. Does it matter that intelligence and worldliness were left out of the farmer's blessings? Not a bit: These qualities are supplied in abundance by the orphaned youngster Jack, whom the jaunty scarecrow takes on as his servant. Picaresque adventures ensue: Jack and his master best a band of brigands, make their stage debut, join an army regiment and, when Jack convinces his master to desert (unbeknownst to the Scarecrow) by escaping on a raft, they get shipwrecked on an island. The scarecrow also falls in love (with a beguiling broom, who is—alas!—betrothed to a rake), all the while maintaining "the inner conviction that [he is] a man of property," destined to be landlord of a place called Spring Valley. Adding a shiver of suspense is a subplot about the sinister lawyer Cercorelli, who is tracking down the scarecrow for his employers, the greedy Buffaloni clan, who have their own plans for Spring Valley. Like the classic tales from which it draws inspiration, this story has a sense of always having been there, just waiting to be told. Bailey's delicate line drawings complement the winning characterizations and assured pacing. Ages 8-12. (Aug.)