The Growing Summer (by Noel Streatfeild)

Noel Streatfeild was one of my favourite writers as a child, although I only knew of about six or seven of her books. Her best-known children’s novel is probably ‘Ballet Shoes’ which was also made into a film, but she wrote a large number of books, some of which have been re-published in recent years. I have most of them, and often turn to her stories if I want to read something comforting.

It’s many years since I last read ‘The Growing Summer’; at least fifteen years, maybe more. I remember reading it aloud to my sons when they were young teenagers, and we all liked it very much. It’s not like Streatfeild’s more popular books; none of the children in this one are particularly gifted or artistic in any way. Nor are they particularly self-motivated.

Alex is nearly fourteen as the book opens; Penny is twelve, Robin is nine, and Naomi eight. They live in London in reasonable comfort; their father is a research scientist. In the first chapter he gets some exciting news about something he’s discovered, and sets off for a year’s international travel. The book was written as a contemporary novel in the mid 1960s, so air travel was becoming normal, but it wasn’t as inexpensive or straightforward to hop in a plan as it is today.

Circumstances change and suddenly the children are sent to life with their eccentric Great Aunt Dymphna, and thrown into an entirely different lifestyle. Aunt Dymphna drives like a maniac, lives in a cluttered house of ancient and very tattered old furniture, and doesn’t cook regular meals. A friendly neighbour gives advice and provides them with some groceries, but Penny is expected to learn to cook on an ancient stove, and Alex to catch fish and collect firewood.

The main part of the story, then, is about the children’s gradual changes and growth over the summer. Sometimes they wonder if Aunt Dymphna is completely crazy. Naomi, who is a bit of a whiner, has to learn to control her feelings rather more than she is inclined to. They all have to be resourceful and to pull together as a family.

There’s a lot more to the book too; I’d remembered the overall idea but had quite forgotten about the unpleasant and mysterious Stephan who causes them extra headaches, and the midnight fishing trip, and the other people whom the children meet and become friendly with.

The writing is good, the characterisation excellent, as with most of this author’s books, and my only niggle was that - also typical with Streatfeild - it ends quite abruptly. I suppose there’s no need for a long drawn out ending when the various situations are resolved, but I’d have liked another chapter, I think, tying ends up more neatly and seeing a little of what could happen in the future.

However, overall I enjoyed it. It’s a good introduction to Noel Streatfeild for boys as well as girls, although most of her books were written primarily for girls. Sadly long out of print, but often seen in second-hand or charity shops.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

1 comment:

sparrow girl said...

Thanks for the great review of this book..I am interested in finding some good older books to read aloud to my daughter, and I've enjoyed reading several of your reviews. Thanks so much!
Sparrow (in Southern USA)