Silent Night (by Jack Sheffield)

I read a couple of Jack Sheffield’s books about five years ago, and enjoyed them very much. They were written in a similar style to those popularised by, for instance, James Herriot or Gervase Phinn, told mostly in the first person, describing the author’s first couple of years as Headmaster at a small village primary school in Yorkshire. The village (Ragley) is fictional, as are most of the characters, but the incidents and situations encountered are based on the author’s experience.

So, although I did not read any more of the series, I jumped at the opportunity of reading the author’s latest offering, ‘Silent Night’ when I saw it available for review at The Bookbag. The cover depicts a small girl standing on tiptoe to sing into a microphone, against the background of deep red curtains with the title in gold lettering… so I assumed this would be a Christmas-themed book.

Instead it’s the account of another year in Jack’s headship, and is the eighth in the series. It’s set in the school year starting September 1984. Jack is married to Beth, a dynamic young woman who is Head of another school, and they have a toddler son. Beth is feeling a bit cramped in their little cottage and longs for more challenge in her career, while Jack is very contented pottering along as a village school Head.

The book is set, perhaps a bit too overtly, in its historical context by asides mentioning topical news items and pop songs of the era. Jack’s life is punctuated by minor frustrations of bureaucracy, a few misunderstandings, and occasional irate parents. It’s also enriched by mildly amusing mistakes made by children, although they all felt a bit predictable; and since every child spoke with the same kind of voice, I never remembered who was who. I smiled a couple of times, but no more. The Yorkshire dialect was a bit tricky to read sometimes, and there were moments when I felt almost as if the entire teaching staff - who spoke perfect English - felt themselves superior to the families they were working with.

Yet it was pleasant light reading, and a good book to read in a busy period. I had no trouble at all putting it down at night when I wanted to sleep. I think it would appeal to those who enjoy light-weight meanderings into a gentler way of school life, prior to the National Curriculum. I suggest reading at least one or two of the earlier books before embarking on this one, just so that the sheer number of people and stories does not seem so overwhelming.

Available in paperback or Kindle format.

You can also read my longer review of 'Silent Night' at The Bookbag site.

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