Streatfeild Unread!

I know it's boring, but this is what my copy looks like!
I thought I'd read everything Noel Streatfeild had ever written. Of course I've read my copy of Ballet Shoes to pieces, but over the years I've also collected and devoured White Boots (skating), Party Dress (patriotic fundraiser), A Vicarage Family (thinly veiled autobiography), The Painted Garden (film), The Children on the Top Floor (television), Dancing Shoes, Apple Bough, Far To Go, and more.

But imagine my surprise when I was at a beer barn in Brunswick St at the weekend and I spied among the decorative shelves of second hand books, a dull-looking little volume called The Children of Primrose Lane which I had never even heard of, let alone read…

My hard-bargaining husband negotiated for me to acquire it (they gave it to me for nothing :-)) and I started to read it straight away. quickly it became clear why I hadn't come across it before. It's not one of Streatfeild's ballet/show-biz titles; it's a war-time spy adventure story, with a gang of six children chasing a German spy across the countryside. Originally published in 1941, this edition dates from 1965 and includes a foreword from the author, explaining about gas masks, curfews and the danger of enemy parachutists in these early days of the war when everyone feared an invasion was just around the corner.

This kind of story is unusual for Streatfeild, and it's not her strongest work, though there are pleasures here in the treatment of the children's relationships with each other as they work together to trick and catch their spy. There are lots of disagreements, management of each other's awkward personalities, and inner doubts, fears and guilt -- it's not all straight heroics (though there are plenty of heroics, too!) It was obviously written as a morale-boosting, patriotic tale, and it's very much of its time.

I can't see it getting a reprint today. It's spoilt by way too much talk of suspicious foreigners, dirty gypsies, evil Germans with thick necks and the like, while the plucky British children save the day. Still, I'm not sorry to have it, though it's a most misleading title. It was published in the US as The Stranger in Primrose Lane, which is better. The plot is pretty clunky, too, but it's fun to read about a gang of kids who vanish for days on end to save their nation, with no more than a single phone call home to say, don't worry, we're fine… Have to say that wouldn't quite do the trick today!

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