The little white horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Oh how I wanted Maria's bedroom! Thanks to JK (who said it was her favourite childhood book) it was reprinted, and big talk of movies...
Mid-Victorian setting, with touches of fantasy. The poem, at the very beginning of the book, sets the tone wonderfully:
It was under the white moon that I saw, / The little white horse, with neck arched high in pride.
After the death of her father Maria is sent, along with her governess, Miss Heliotrope, and her dog, Mr Wiggins, to the West Country to live with her nearest relative, her father's cousin, Sir Benjamin. There Maria learns of a long-standing family curse and the locals wonder if she is the one to finally break it - the Moon Maiden.
The characters are all strong - Robin, Maria's childhood 'imaginary' friend; the Pason; Miss Heliotrope - and Wrolf the family 'dog'. Even the animals rock! Marmaduke Scarlet - who wouldn't want him in your kitchen! And the Black Men of the Forest! The perfect children's book villians.
There are fabulous feasts and great one-liners... As Maria returns from an attempt to reform the Black Men, Sir Benjamin says "I've never seen a clearer case of the morning after the night before".
There is romance - and not just Maria's - action - ghosts - redemption - forgiveness... and all wrapped up in Christian undertones, which allow for some otherwordly happenings (like astral projection).
Many of Goudge's work has that combination - something attributable to her upbringing as the daughter of an Anglican minister, who was brought up in various Catherdral cities/towns and holidayed with her French grandparents on the Channel Islands, where things were occassionally otherworldy.