Monday, 26 November 2012

Before Jacqueline Wilson...

...there was Noel Streatfeild (Noel Streatfeild, Noel Streatfeild, Noel Streatfeild...I should write it out a hundred times after my Ballet Shoes post error: sloppy Faber, sloppy.)

A brief post following on from my Hunger Games/Flambards musings really.

Being a Mother of Boys, and still fairly tender aged ones at that I'll confess I haven't had that much to do with Jacqueline Wilson but I know plenty of Mothers of Girls who get a little exercised by their daughters' obsession with her.

Their main anxiety seems to be the quantity of fairly grown up 'ishoos' that are dealt with in her books hiding behind deceptively soothing pink and purple sparkly covers. Too much too soon seems to be the accusation.

But I say go back and reread the apparently oh-so-cosy and deliciously middle class Noel Streatfeild you were reading at 9 afresh and you may be surprised.

The impact of having a parent with depression who can't work? see 'The Painted Garden'
The impact of having a parent who's personality has been changed by a serious head injury? see 'Caldicott Place'
The impact of living in a poorly planned housing estate? see 'New Town'
The impact of being a displaced and orphaned refugee arriving in a new country? see 'Ballet Shoes for Anna'

And this is quite aside from the default setting of all her books, of children who need to be more or less entirely self-reliant; who must find their own solutions to their problems whether financial or logistical. Who must learn to make sometimes quite substantial sacrifices to achieve their dreams.

Yes Noel Streatfeild's families poverty may be relative and yes, there is nearly always a scamp of a dog and unlimited cake to support them on their way and yes;  always a happy ending but difficulty, darkness and even tragedy lurk on the peripheries. The childhoods of the 1940s,50s and 60s were apparently just as complicated as the childhoods of today and children have always been fascinated to read about how others negotiate those complications.

'From the moment they saw their village had gone a sort of silent frenzy had come over the children, then, without saying a word, they stumbled and ran all the way to where they thought the little house had been. there they knelt down and dug and dug with their fingers. But though they dug without stopping they could not find any sign of their family- just nothing- nothing at all.
Nor was the place where their own little house had been the only place where the children dug... They dug where the shop had once stood. They dug for the other cottages and the mosque. On they went, dig, dig, dig until their nails were broken and their hands covered in blood. And still they never spoke.'
                                        from 'Ballet Shoes for Anna' 1972


  1. Fantastic post. What a brilliant idea to compare the two, and very enlightening too! I'm also thinking about 'When the Siren Wailed', which deals so movingly with children removed from their parents, or even Ballet Shoes which of course contains three orphans.

    1. Now you're the second person to mention 'When the siren wailed' to me and I don't know that I've ever read that one before! Must seek it out- evacuation I'm assuming? Yes- lots of orphans in Streatfeild- although 'Ballet shoes for Anna' the only one where I think we really feel their grief.

  2. Three children are evacuated and the eldest has to grow up very quickly (think the youngest is around 5). I need to re-read, the details are hazy, but I remember it doesn't sugar-coat the experience. Agree re. grief - I guess the girls in Ballet Shoes don't miss what they never knew.