The Growing Summer – Vintage Kidlit Summer Week #6
My friend Faith Elizabeth Hough (who blogs HERE) and I decided to create a fun reading challenge called Vintage Kidlit Summer. If you missed any of the details on how this challenge works, just go here and you can catch up! Basically, we’re doing 12 categories over 12 weeks, and each week has its own theme. All you have to do is choose a vintage/classic book that fits that week’s theme, read it, and share about it! You can write about it on your blog, or you can post your thoughts on Instagram (or Twitter) as well, by using the hashtag #vintagekidlitsummer. And if you’re in need of recommendations for each week’s theme, check out this blog post!
Our sixth week’s theme was Well-known Author, Little-known Book, and for this theme I chose to re-read The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild. Such a joy!
If you haven’t yet heard me discuss this tale of four siblings and their summer adventures in a mysterious Ireland setting, you’re certainly going to want to pick it up now. This book follows the Gareth children as they are uprooted to the home of their unpredictable Great-Aunt Dymphna, where they have to learn how to cope with complex responsibilities and secrets. The reason why I recommend this book so often is because I think it will appeal those who love Elizabeth Enright’s summery books or Edward Eager’s magical tales, and I know there are tons of fans of those books. This sometimes overlooked Streatfeild story fits right in with those, and I hope you’ll give it a try! (P.S.—I recently bought my first UK copy of this story but haven’t read it yet. I don’t think there are many text changes from my US edition called The Magic Summer.)
The above paragraph is what I wrote about this book on my blog a few months ago, which gives a general overview of the story. I read this book for the first time as a child and enjoyed it, but I’ve come to love it more as an adult. I actually received it the Christmas I was nine, when I told my parents I wanted a whole box full of Noel Streatfeild books and that’s exactly what I received—it was glorious. But unfortunately, my original childhood copy is now in literal tatters from re-readings, so last year I invested in the aforementioned UK copy that has the original title. The illustrations particularly intrigued me—they look precisely like what I always envisioned (the big shadowy rooms and the placement of everything) … which I think means that Streatfeild described things very well.
One of the things I like best about this book is the atmosphere. Streatfeild never wrote a book that had more connection to a certain beautiful environment, and I think it was perhaps her way of paying homage to Elizabeth Enright (to whom the book is dedicated). Enright, such a careful observer of the natural world, must have inspired Streatfeild.
Another aspect I like is the characters. Streatfeild tended to re-use sets of characters, but I don’t mind that at all—I enjoy the familiarity of old favorite characters. But this story differs a bit because the four Gareth siblings actually mature throughout the course of the story and come to be more responsible individuals, which isn’t always the case in Streatfeild families.
Aunt Dymphna is a wonderful character because of her unpredictability, her endearing poetry reciting, her ways of disappearing and reappearing. She doesn’t look after the children the way she should, and never really seems to learn a lesson of her own, which I felt should have been resolved better. But she’s immensely entertaining, and there are subtle hints that there’s more to her than meets the eye (for example, the moment when Alex learns that she has memorized her last correspondence from her brother, whom she lost in World War II).
The ending is abrupt, too, and slightly mysterious—but so heartfelt. Which is perhaps a good way to describe the entire book!
There was a TV film version of it in 1969 that starred Wendy Hiller (Mrs. Harris in the 1987 Anne of Avonlea), as Aunt Dymphna, and apparently has never been released anywhere, which I find incredibly sad. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch?
I do vaguely remember finding a radio dramatization online a while back; I should dig it up and give it a try! It was a delight to revisit this book.
What did you read for the Vintage Kidlit Summer this week? Let me know in the comments!