Apple Bough (by Noel Streatfeild)

I have loved Noel Streatfeild’s books for close to fifty years now. I don’t know which one I read first, but there were several on my grandparents’ shelves which I read as a child, and more which I collected or borrowed from libraries in my teens. They’re the kind of books that tell good stories with believable (if a little caricatured) people; they usually feature reasonably happy families, are eminently re-readable. If I want an undemanding and, peaceful read for an afternoon on my own, they make a good choice.

It’s many years since I last read ‘Apple Bough’, which is sometimes known in the US as ‘Traveling [sic] Shoes’. It’s about the Forum family: Myra, Sebastian, Wolfgang and Ettie. Their parents are both musicians, somewhat impoverished, and delightfully vague. Sebastian is discovered to have a significant talent as a violinist when he’s only eight, and is invited on a six-month tour. Their mother refuses to split the family, and thinks that travel would be a great opportunity for the whole family, so she engages a governess, Miss Popple, and they set off…

Six months turns into a year, and by the time the story really gets going, the Forum family have been travelling around the world for four years. The father, a talented pianist, accompanies Sebastian, and they have been earning plenty of money as well as living in hotels and other upmarket accommodation. But the other three children feel increasingly homesick, and Myra in particular wants to settle down somewhere and be reunited with her dog, whom she had to leave behind.

Naturally, this being a Streatfeild book, Sebastian is not the only talented child in the family. Ettie is a very promising ballet dancer, and Wolfgang wants to write pop music. He’s also rather good at reciting and showing off in general. Myra feels the odd one out; she has no artistic or musical gifts, and spends her time trying to look after her younger siblings.

I thought that Myra was very well drawn; she reminds me a bit of Ann Robinson in the ‘Gemma’ books, but without Ann’s fabulous voice. Ettie is another Posy Fossil, or Lydia Robinson, who cares for nothing but her ballet and is (naturally) outstanding. Sebastian is the one we get to know least, although I found myself feeling quite sorry for him, particularly towards the end when he becomes very stressed.

It’s a nice story about reaching one’s dreams, and about the way that talents are not always obvious ‘stage’ ones. While the children are similar to other Streatfeild children, the family dynamics are different in every book and that’s what makes me keep reading. The conversations feel quite realistic and there are one or two places that I found extremely moving.

Highly recommended to children from the age of about eight or nine, and any teens or adults who like reading this kind of older children’s fiction.

Not currently in print, but widely available second-hand.

Review copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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