The Children of Primrose Lane (by Noel Streatfeild)

I’ve loved Noel Streatfeild’s writing since I was about eight or nine, when I first discovered a collection of her books on my grandparents’ shelves. She’s best known for her children’s classic ‘Ballet Shoes’, and was quite a prolific author in the middle of the 20th century. I’ve gradually collected most of her books over the years, and enjoy re-reading them regularly.

‘The Children of Primrose Lane’, unlike most of Streatfeild’s books, does not feature anyone who is artistically talented. Set in wartime England, it’s about a group of children who live in a street with just four houses. They’re old, and should have been knocked down; indeed, the occupants of number four have moved on. But the three red-headed Brown children, the Smith twins and Millie Evans, aged between 14 and 9, see each other as extended family. They’ve unofficially adopted number four as their place to escape.

One day they discover someone hiding. He claims to be someone on his way to meet his brother, but his story doesn’t ring true and the children soon realise he’s an ‘enemy’ spy of some kind. However they can’t report him because it might get someone else into serious trouble… so they do what they can to outwit him.

I don’t remember reading this book as a child; I acquired it in 2006 and read it then, so re-reading it recently I could remember very little of the storyline. It’s an exciting story, one which made me feel quite tense in places, despite knowing that it was inevitably going to end well. Streatfeild had a gift of writing about realistic, three-dimensional children, and she achieves that very well in this book. Her only caricature is the rather spoiled Millie. Sally, the oldest Brown, is responsible and a good leader, and good at keeping the peace.

Quite apart from being a well-told and interesting story, the book gives a good picture of what it would have been like in the 1940s, where children had a lot of freedom, at least during daylight hours. There are one or two places where dialogue and description would not be considered politically correct these days, and one rather shocking use of a word that’s now considered very offensive. My edition was slightly revised in 1965 and apparently this word was considered acceptable even then.

Other than that, it’s an ideal book for children who like to read about the war years, and who enjoy exciting adventure stories. Perhaps the climax to the book is somewhat unlikely, but it makes a most dramatic ending. As ever the concluding pages are quite short; once Noel Streatfeild resolves her main plot problems she usually finishes very quickly, almost abruptly at times. But this time the balance feels about right.

Definitely recommended to fluent readers over the age of about eight or nine; just be warned about the casual use of a very bad word. Long out of print, and tends to be pricy, particularly in the US (where its alternate title is 'The Stranger of Primrose Lane').

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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