Thursday's Child (by Noel Streatfeild)

I remembered this book, vaguely, from my childhood. Always on the lookout for more to add to my Noel Streatfeild collection, I was delighted to find a good quality hardback edition (formerly a library book) for sale inexpensively online.

‘Thursday’s Child’, set shortly after the start of the 20th century, is the story of Margaret, who was left on a vicarage doorstep as a baby. She had high quality clothing, and a promise that fifty-two sovereigns would be left for her keep every year. She is placed with two elderly ladies who bring her up well for her first ten years or so, aided by their housemaid Hannah. But the ladies are getting frailer, and then one year a note arrives saying that there will be no more money for Margaret.

So she’s sent to an orphanage. Supposedly a good one, it turns out to be a Dickensian-style hotbed of physical abuse and neglect. Margaret befriends a girl called Lavinia who is employed nearby, and agrees to keep an eye on her two younger brothers, Peter and Horatio. Margaret is a determined and strong-minded child, and finds herself in trouble with the dreadful Matron of the home right from the start.

The orphanage phase of the book doesn’t last too long, thankfully; it gives a heart-rending picture of what life probably was like for some children, when their homes were not regulated or inspected. But Margaret and her friends run away, and we see a much happier life - albeit hard - as they work for a while as ‘leggers’ on a canal boat.

This isn’t a typical Streatfeild book; there are no highly gifted children, at least not until Margaret discovers an unexpected talent towards the end. There’s a somewhat unlikely coincidence - although it seems happily believable while immersed in the book - and, being a children’s book, a satisfactory conclusion although it happens rather quickly and leaves the story open. I knew I had to read the sequel soon afterwards!

I had forgotten the story entirely; I realised that Margaret would get out of the clutches of the orphanage but had no recollection of what happened. Noel Streatfeild has a very readable style, and quite a gift of characterisation for the children in her novels, even if the adults are rather caricatured. It was written in 1970 so is a historical rather than contemporary novel, and a good picture is painted of life in various contexts from the point of view of a child.

This wouldn’t be the best introduction to Noel Streatfeild’s books although it’s a good story that might appeal to boys as much as to girls; I doubt if anyone younger than about eight or nine would find it very interesting, but a good reader of that age or older might well enjoy it. This kind of book is good as a read-aloud, too, for children of about eight or older who still enjoy a bedtime chapter.

I’m delighted to have ‘Thursday’s Child’ in my collection. It's not currently in print but can sometimes be found second-hand at reasonable price.

Review copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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