It's 1910 in Pownal, Vermont. At 12 Grace and her best friend Arthur must go to work in the mill, helping their mothers work the looms. Together Grace and Arthur write a secret letter to the Child Labor Board about underage children working in the mill. A few weeks later, Lewis Hine, a famous reformer arrives undercover to gather evidence. Grace meets him and appears in some of his photographs, changing her life forever.
Furniture specialist Maggie Hammond inherits a house on a New England island and becomes involved in the community. The characters include a sheriff and his abused wife, a dog trainer, a promiscuous nurse and an ecologist to whom Maggie is attracted.
Twelve-year-old William uses the magic token to return, through the toy castle in his attic, to the medieval land of Sir Simon, which is now menaced by a skeleton ship bearing a plague of ravenous rats.