Saturday 13 September 2014

When the siren wailed by Noel Streatfeild

When the siren wailed by Noel Streatfeild (Collins, 1974)

18 chapters; 174 pages

Subjects: World War Two, England, London, children, evacuees, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

Laura, Andy and Tim Clark are evacuated to the country, like thousands of other London children, at the beginning of WW2. They are billeted in a large house with a “kind but gruff” old Colonel. When he suddenly dies, they are sent to live with the dreaded Miss Justworthy, at which point they decide to escape and try to get back to London to find their parents.

This review mirrors my feelings about the book. There is a lot of heavy-handed explaining, many of the characters are fairly one-dimensional (especially Miss Justworthy, the Evacuee Officer), and the children’s flight back to London isn't very dramatic or suspenseful. Some hugely important plot twists are explained away in a brief sentence or two. The children just aren't very interesting and their dialogue is hard to read (“D’you mean I’ll ‘ave a garden all me own what I don’t share with Andy nor Laura?”)

This is a pity because the subject of evacuees is such a fascinating one, and also because I love many of Noel Streatfeild’s other books, especially The painted garden and Ballet shoes, but this one doesn't have the same magic. 

If you are also a Noel Streatfeild fan, you might like to check out the amusing checklist of How to tell if you are in a Noel Streatfeild novel. Warning signs include: “You are ridiculously talented at one very specific thing”, “So are your siblings. Each of you has a separate, distinct talent, which is fortunate because it means you never have to compete with each other” and “You've never taken a single lesson related to your talents until the story starts. You’re just naturally, amazingly talented.”

(And if you enjoy that, you can go on to find out How to tell if you're in a Dorothy Parker, Jane Austen,Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens or any number of other novels. Complete diversion, sorry. Warning, some entries might be more risque than others.)  

About the author:
This timeline of Noel Streatfeild’s life tells you several interesting things you might not know, such as that she was born on 24 December (perhaps why she was given Noel as a second name) and her first name was actually Mary, that she was employed in WW1 at the Woolwich Arsenal as a munitions worker  (like Johnny’s mother in Lord of the nutcracker men), that she toured England with a Shakespeare company in her 20s and that her London flat was destroyed by a bomb in WW2 .

Other books you might like:
While clearing out some of our book shelves, I  came across another book about evacuee children: Evacuee by Gabriel Alington (Walker Books, 1988.) This treats the subject of evacuees from another angle: that of a timid English girl, Frances (or Fanny) sent away to the USA to live with “Aunt” Bird and her adopted daughter, Pepper. Fanny eventually comes out of her shell, which we know because she gets a new haircut, learns to swim and falls in love with Pepper’s 20-year-old adopted brother (which is slightly creepy as Fanny is only 13.) She also manages to walk into the White House and meet the President.

I think we bought this book at a book fair or second hand bookshops, and it annoyed me because of the plot holes and creepiness factor, but I did learn about the Firsters movement.  The America First movement was against any American involvement in WW2 and one of its leaders was Charles Lindbergh, the famous pilot.

Before Pearl Harbor, aviator Charles Lindbergh was so vocal about his opposition to U.S. involvement in World War II that he became an unofficial leader of America's isolationist movement.
Before Pearl Harbor, aviator Charles Lindbergh was so vocal about his opposition to U.S. involvement in World War II that he became an unofficial leader of America's isolationist movement.

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