Party Frock aka Party Shoes (by Noel Streatfeild)

I've enjoyed Noel Streatfeild's books for children for many years. I don't remember when I started reading them - I was probably about seven or eight when I discovered some early editions on my grandparents' shelves - but I've collected quite a few of them over the years, and re-read them regularly.

One of the books I enjoyed as a child was 'Party Frock' - the story of a pageant. For some years it was out of print and I could not find it anywhere second-hand. So I was pleased to learn that it was re-published as 'Party Shoes' about eight years ago, and even more pleased when I found it second-hand on Play.com a few weeks ago.

The story starts when Selina, who lives with her six cousins, receives a parcel from America. It's set at the end of World War II, where there are no parties or dances, and she wonders when she could ever wear it. So her cousins brainstorm, and eventually decide to write and produce a pageant.

Undaunted by the size of such an endeavour, they set to work writing and copying scenes, and inviting friends and neighbours to take part. They're remarkably motivated children, but even so it would have been something of a flop had it not been for Philip, a young man convalescing from a war wound, who knows something about drama, and gradually gets more and more involved.

Most of the book describes pageant rehearsals, problems that are eventually overcome, and a few misunderstandings. It's not much of a plot, but the story is really character-based, and as such is one of Streatfeild's finest books in my view. Naturally there's a ballet dancer in the family (Sally) who's very focussed on her art, although she's also quite sensitive. There's a somewhat arrogant child (Phoebe) who doesn't like to be helped.

Then there's a child who likes to play around and joke (Christopher). John, the eldest, is a bit more shadowy (but then he's away at school for some of the time) and Selina is very likeable too, very much loved and treated as one of the family, and yet somehow different - clearly not a sibling. The two younger boys, Augustus and Benjamin, are also delightful, and some of the minor characters are excellent (if a little caricatured).

A lovely book, probably intended for children of about 9-12 originally, but suitable for anyone who reads with confidence, or as a read-aloud for a child if about six or seven. Fun for adults to re-read too. Definitely recommended. Still in print (republished again in 2007), and much more widely available second-hand than it used to be.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 25th November 2010

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