The Painted Garden (by Noel Streatfeild)

Every so often I like to sit down and relax with a classic children's book, such as the ones by Noel Streatfeild. She was one of my very favourite authors when I was a young teenager, and her books are so well written that I can enjoy them even now, thirty years later. Her characters may be slightly caricatured, but they're warm and lovable, and her plots are just the kind of thing I used to dream about.

'The Painted Garden' (which was abridged and published as 'Movie Shoes' in the USA) is about a typical Streatfeild family called Rachel, Jane and Tim. Rachel, like so many girls by this author, is a gifted ballet dancer, and Tim - youngest in the family - is an extremely talented musician.

Jane, the middle child in the family, is not artistic, not musical, not interested in ballet, and generally rather irritable. Unsurprising, really!

Their father has been ill prior to this book starting, and the family are given the opportunity of spending the winter with his sister in California. After much discussion and argument, they decide to go ahead for his sake.

When they get there, Jane is offered a remarkable opportunity, to the amazement of the rest of her family. She really wants to be recognised, and struggles to meet other people's expectations, while (for once) everyone else has to fit in around her.

Family dynamics push this book forward; I thought, even on the third or fourth re-read that it was a lovely, gentle read. There's some humour, and one or two very moving moments, and a most satisfying conclusion.

Alas, now out of print, and often highly priced second-hand, although it can occasionally be found for a few pence in a charity shop or at a jumble sale.

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