Forgotten Gems: Two Childhood Favorites Revisited
In today’s blog post, I’m taking a look at two of my favorite childhood books that I still return to again and again—and have a hard time putting down. Both are British novels published about half a century ago by one of my favorite authors, Noel Streatfeild. Both books feature unusual family dynamics, large houses, and a bit of ballet. Thematically, the stories vary quite a bit, but their unquenchable heart and verve are identical.
I have read most of Noel Streatfeild’s books for children, and most of them have become treasured favorites. (Check out my post here for a review of her lovely Bell Family series from the 1950s). As a Shakespearean actress, Streatfeild had a deep interest in theater and dancing, both of which play enchanting roles in the majority of her novels. In fact, I can only think of a handful of her books that don’t feature the performing arts—even her idyllic summer adventure novel The Magic Summer is peppered with poetry!
Obviously, I could talk all day long about how much I enjoy her books, and I will definitely have to write more blog posts about these stories in the future. But today I am going to focus two of her novels that were my *very favorites* around the age of 10-11 and which are still wonderful to reread.
The first is Dancing Shoes, which was published in 1957 (originally titled Wintle’s Wonders in Great Britain). The main character, Rachel, is a shy girl who slowly blossoms to confidence through her acting ability during the two years of heartache following her mother’s death. Although Rachel can be ineffectual when it comes to her own dreams, she is strong-willed about the future of her younger sister Hilary. Rachel is certain that Hilary will become a ballerina at the Royal Ballet School—just as their late mother intended—but Rachel’s plans fall apart when the two girls are sent to live with ambitious Aunt Cora, who runs a stage school where her spoiled daughter is the indisputable star. Of course, both Rachel and Hilary upstage Dulcie in the end, which makes a satisfying and humorous (if unrealistic) conclusion. 🙂
The Family at Caldicott Place was first published ten years later in 1967, under the original British title of Caldicott Place. (I also mentioned this book in my Best Books of Winter blog post.) This heartrending yet uplifting story takes place at a neglected old estate in the countryside, where an emotionally-strained family goes to stay after their father’s car accident. Three children from difficult backgrounds also become a part of the family, despite initial tension that stems from inevitable personality clashes. A cast of delightful, multi-dimensional characters and a truly beautiful ending make this novel one of Streatfeild’s very best.
While I have a great fondness for lyrical writing and detailed descriptions, I love Streatfeild’s books for their simplistic brevity, breezy dialogue, and ease of reading. As a child, I was a slow reader, and it typically took me a long time to finish books, but I could whiz through Streatfield’s wonderful novels quickly—and that’s just one of the reasons why they became my favorites. Both Dancing Shoes and Caldicott Place are short—I estimate that they’re around 40,000 words each—but they pack a poignant punch that make them definitely worthwhile.
If you haven’t yet checked out these sweet, timeless stories, I absolutely insist that you give them a try! 🙂
Recently Read: Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo, Beany and the Beckoning Road by Lenora Mattingly Weber, Cherry Ames: Staff Nurse by Helen Wells
Currently Reading: Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery, The Lifegiving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson