Caldicott Place (by Noel Streatfeild)

More comfort reading - not that the days are significantly colder here. But in trying to finish a book every day during November, I'm thoroughly enjoying re-visiting some of my childhood favourites. Noel Streatfeild, in my view, wrote some of the very best children's books with interesting plots, and excellent characterisation.

It's many years since I last read 'Caldicott Place'. Indeed, when I started it, I had rather confused the plot, in my mind, with 'Apple bough' which was another of my childhood favourites.

This story is about Bill, Carol and Tim. Bill, who is almost thirteen as the book begins, is quite academic, and particularly interested in chemistry. Carol, who is eleven, is keen on dancing; there's usually someone who is in Streatfeild's books, but Carol isn't totally dedicated to ballet, and the sub-plots involving her dancing schools are reasonably low-key.

Tim is possibly the most interesting character in the book; he's nearly eight as the story starts, and loves gardening with his father. But his greatest passion is Jelly, the family dog.

The children don't realise how happy they are until their father is in a nasty car accident, right before the story starts. He recovers, physically, but remains in an emotional fog for many months. Struggling financially, the family move to a small flat, so their mother can take a job. But it really doesn't work out. They become increasingly stressed in various ways.

Then something completely unexpected happens. Pretty unlikely too, I have to admit, but in the context of the book it works extremely well. And after much discussion, they try out a new lifestyle in the countryside, with some temporary additions to the family - three wealthy but neglected children - and a chance for their father some peace to recuperate.

The story is character-driven, and in my view one of Noel Streatfeild's best. As with many of her books it does end a trifle more abruptly than I would like, but she ties up the ends neatly after the worst problems are solved. I found it hard to put down once I'd started, and was surprised by a couple of very moving sections.

Officially intended for children of eight and over, but I found it very enjoyable as an adult; it would be ideal to read aloud to any child who's ready for chapter books. And highly recommended to anyone who wants a good juvenile fiction story. Out of print, sadly, but often available second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 15th November 2010

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