Tag Archives: Noel Streatfeild

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?

A Vicarage Family

Noel Streatfeild, A Vicarage Family

A Vicarage Family is the first of three parts of an autobiography by that man who curiously enough seemed to write books about girls and ballet.

Relax! I have long since found out that Noel Streatfeild was a woman, and although it’s a sexist thought, I feel this explains the ballet book. Yet again I have grown up in the wrong country, and have ended up knowing nothing about what everyone else grew up loving. A quick search tells me a few books were translated early, but Ballet Shoes not until I was an adult. I still haven’t read it, but I did watch the television adaptation a few years ago, which helped.

This first part of Noel’s autobiography has put me much more in the picture, and leaves me wanting the rest. It was a little confusing to begin with, because Noel chose to rename everyone, including herself. It’s a good idea in one way, as no one can actually know what life was like for the rest of the family. We only know our own thoughts and memories. On googling Noel, I found that she had done more than pick new names. She appears to have made herself younger, as well.

This volume deals with ‘Victoria’ at the age of about eleven to 15, in the years immediately before the war, ending in 1915 with the arrival of the telegram that the adult reader will have been expecting throughout the book. You do the numbers, and you know it’s not going to end well. Even when prepared, you cry.

Noel’s father was a vicar and the family of four children was always poor, and she and her sisters were the ones who had to go to parties badly dressed, and to eat only the bread and butter if it’s during Lent. But they were all talented in different ways, and with their cousin ‘John’ put on entertainment for the parishioners, and Noel’s writing skills got her into early trouble at school.

The parents are both imperfect, the way real people are. But mostly they are like this because of how they themselves have been brought up. Noel’s father didn’t know any better, and was frequently a little too naïve. Her mother married at 17 and had five children (one died) in quick succession. How could she be calm and mature? And although they could see how unhappy young Dick was at his boarding school, no one thought to question this.

Written in the 1960s it allowed Noel to look back to the beginning of the century, and to explain to modern children about the differences between then and ‘now.’ What I found most fascinating, however, was how very similar people were then, thinking about what we are like now, one hundred years later. You never know with fiction if the truth has been altered, but the way Noel describes her own feelings, and how the other girls at school behaved towards the sisters, it’s only the mobiles and laptops that are missing.

This is an altogether wonderful book.

(There is an introduction by Julia Donaldson in this Jane Nissen edition, which brings Noel Streatfeild much closer to the reader. Julia actually met Noel in the 1970s, and this almost makes me feel as if I did too.)

What do they know?

Years ago when I was queueing to pay for The Subtle Knife, the lady taking my money checked that I had already read Northern Lights. Useful, but unnecessary in my case. On the other hand, in the very same shop, I witnessed a customer asking what to buy for son/grandson after His Dark Materials, which the boy had loved, and they had no clue and stood there helplessly. That time I butted in with my opinion, but maybe that was wrong?

After all that’s happened, this seems an unlikely scenario, but when I read in the paper that the second Harry Potter book had been published, I went to a bookshop to buy the first, as I’d intended to do for so long. I couldn’t remember which title was which, so in order to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently carrying home the second book, I asked. They had no idea, and either not the inclination or the tools to look it up for me.

You simply can’t know when someone in a bookshop will know what you want to find out. I realise that the detailed knowledge about Ballet Shoes in the film You’ve Got Mail can happen, but it’s mostly a fond myth. Even the lovely Meg Ryan can’t have had that much information on all the books she sold.

Ah, I’m just a moaning old witch. I want people to be perfect. Shall I stop complaining about bookshops for a couple of days?