Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Susan Pulls the Strings

Alternative covers for Susan Pulls the Strings. Above, a scene from Chapter 6. Susan and the Carmichaels pursue a book thief on the London Underground. Susan unwittingly helped him to steal two rare books from the exhibition Miss Pershore took the cousins to on Boxing Day. Now she is determined to get them back. Below, a scene from Chapter 8, The Empty House Next Door. Susan slips on the ice at her first attempt at skating on the local pond.

Susan's Helping Hand

The Children's Press edition of Susan's Helping Hand depicts my favourite scene from the Susan series, when Susan has to deal with the runaway lawnmower at Cousin Barbara's farm in Kent. Below we can see the the frontispiece of the story from the original Collins edition. However, the scene is a little more crowded than described in the book. In the story, when Bella falls, Susan calls Cousin Barbara and Aunt Lucy. However, Aunt Lucy here has become a teenager with black hair and Midge or Charlotte seems to have appeared from nowhere!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Where is Susan?

Where is Susan? This second-last book in the series is every bit as good as the earlier titles, if not better. This story sees Susan and Midge on their way to Venice where they are going to meet up with Charlotte, now a student of art in Italy, having left St. Ronan's, and Susan's parents, who are returning from South Africa. However, things go wrong, and Susan and her cousin find that their reservations at the hotel have been cancelled. Literally chucked out on the street, as shown on the front cover, the girls are left to fend for themselves. They go to a boarding house and ride around the waterways in search of Charlotte. But there is a thief about and the ghastly Gascoignes are also on the loose. This is an excellent story, the only Jane Shaw novel set in Venice. The only downside is the cover. Because the story is set in Italy, the artist seems to have been under the impression that the girls were Italian! However, there is a sign that things were changing with the times. Midge is a child of the sixties now, wearing trousers (which would have been a definite no-no in the earlier stories, when one of the girls' major gripes was Selina Gascoigne wearing slacks). But I'll never get used to the idea of Midge with a deep suntan and black hair!

Bus Ride in Brittany

When she went to Brittany, the crazy French drivers must have left an impression on Jane Shaw because all her characters, be it by bus or by car, were startled by the crazy way the French motorists whizzed around at high speed. I too remember my Latin teacher at school, Miss Shaughnessy, telling me that when she was in France a bus driver couldn't get past a car, so he went out and broke off the car's mirror so that he could squeeze by. Starting with Sara and Caroline in 1939, right up to Susan and Midge is 1965, the very un-British and unorthodox French driving is a staple feature of the author's early chapters. However much she may have taken to the Breton natives, their driving is something that Jane Shaw never seems to have come to terms with. This picture, from Susan's Kind Heart, depicts the wild bus ride from Dinard to St. Clos.    

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fourpenny Fair Cover

When I reviewed Fourpenny Fair a few weeks ago, I posted only a small picture of the cover at an angle, so here is a high resolution scan. Here we can see Penny at the fair with Sid the little orphan boy. Penny is dressed in a suit of armor and walking around the fair to advertise the play that the boys from the orphanage are putting on. This scene is the best in the book and one of the best written in the whole Penny series. The review can be read at: http://wichwoodvillage.blogspot.com/2011/02/fourpenny-fair.html

Crooks Tour

Crooks Tour was the very first Jane Shaw book that I read, and it is one of the easiest books of hers to find. It was originally published by Collins in 1962 with the artwork shown above. When the book was reissued by The Children's Press a few years later, the girls' clothes were redrawn to look more modern, as you can see below. The story is a single title, not part of a series, recounting the adventures of Scottish school girls Ricky, Julie and Fay as they go on a school trip that takes them to France and Switzerland. Ricky, the blonde girl, is always on the lookout for crooks, hoping to unmask some master criminal's fiendish plots, and throughout the journey she imagines that crime is going on all around her. However, a little investigating shows that the alleged criminals are just oridnary people going about their business, resulting in a lot of teasing from Julie and Fay. However, in the end she does end up becoming unwittingly involved in a minor smuggling ring. Jane Shaw's son, Ian Evans, explains in Susan and Friends why there were so many smugglers in his mother's books: "...in those early postwar years, there were many complications [when travelling abroad] involving currency exchange, excise duty (hence the frequent smuggling themes in Jane Shaw!) and language barriers, few of which exist today". Along with Susan, Ricky became one of the author's most beloved characters, the idiosyncratic Scottish heroine. Crooks Tour is certainly one of Jane Shaw's best known and enjoyable books. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bernese Adventure

For the last few days I've been reading the second Sara and Caroline book, Bernese Adventure. The girls are sent home for an early holiday due to an oubreak of scarlet fever at their school. All their relatives apparently have plans to go abroad and view the sudden arrival of the girls as a major inconvenience. However, Caroline's elder sister, Vanessa, and her husband, John, more or less at gunpoint, agree to take the two girls to Switzerland, where John is going to a conference in Basle. A series of wonderful adventures follows, involving a cache of stolen diamonds. The girls travel all over Europe, including France, Belgium and Germany. There are many funny scenes, such as when Sara wakes up in the middle of the night to find that their room at a German gasthaus has been invaded by a curious baby cow. Hearty meals, despite John's efforts to economize, pepper the story, and a number of exciting events keep Jane Shaw's very first heroines on their toes as they grapple with crooks and all sorts of adventures, culminating in a dramatic showdown back in Dover. Sara has a wonderful time recounting her adventures to a group of hungry reporters. Caroline rounds off the story with a nonchalant quip. This is the most exciting of the Sara and Caroline stories.

Jumble Sale

Above: Lindy and Mitzy set out on their nocturnal mission to retrieve a couple of pots that were made by a temperamental local artist and sold by mistake.

Jumble Sale, published in the Collins' Girls' Annual 1963, is notable because it was Jane Shaw's last short story. Set in the sleepy village of Willow Green, near Maidstone, it stars fifteen-year-old Lindy, her friend Jill and Jill's slightly older brother David. During the summer holidays, they are bored, and wish that something exciting would happen. There has been a spate of so-called Country House Burglaries at Lockesley Castle, fifty miles away, but that's about as near as excitement gets to their village. Lindy is excited at the prospect of being a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding, but Jennifer and her fiancĂ© Tim keep putting it off due to a lack of funds, so the prospect appears to be dwindling. Lindy is also rather taken by an attractive young artist, Mark Lamont, and secretly dreams of marrying him in the distant future. But since Mark isn't proposing just yet, the teenagers agree to help out at the local jumble sale by gathering donations for and working at the White Elephant stall. Most villagers promise to give them some old relics and even Mark Lamont agrees to make a donation. On the day of the sale, David goes to the artist's house and mistakenly carries off two beautiful pots of African violets instead of a pile of junk Mark had left for him. Tim buys the pots as a gift for Jennifer and carries them off to his surgery. Mark Lamont arrives at the stall in a rage, accusing David of stealing the pots and demanding their return. When Tim refuses to give them back, David concocts a plan to break into his surgery and steal the pots. This results in a midnight excursion by the three teens and Lindy's noisy dachshund puppy, Mitzy. Arriving at the surgery, David discovers that he has grown too big to squeeze through the window, so Lindy is elected to break in instead. In the dark room, she is frightened out of her wits by Hector, a skeleton that Tim used when studying anatomy. She raises the roof with her screams and knocks down the pots, breaking them. Tim charges in to see what is going on and, lo and behold, they discover the reason why Lamont had been so angry about losing his pots, for concealed in the earth is a cache of diamonds, the fruits of a recent Country House Robbery. Lamont is clapped in jail, and the kids receive a huge reward, enabling Jennifer and Tim to tie the knot and Jill and Lindy to be bridesmaids. However, Lindy is a bit upset that she will have to wait a bit longer for Mr. Right to come along.

This story was a fine conclusion to more than two decades of contributions to the Collins' annuals. Starting in 1941 with Amanda's Spies, Jane Shaw had been a regular contributor over the years. Sometimes her stories included her most famous characters (Susan, Sara & Caroline, and Ricky, Julie & Fay), while on other occasions, she created new characters for a one-off appearance, as is the case here. Jumble Sale has all the classic Jane Shaw elements: the unlikely coincidence of her characters unmasking a crook, a quiet country setting hit by a crimewave, an adventure stemming from a pretty mundane event like a jumble sale or fair, a treasure and a handsome reward. The characterization is very good, even in the case of minor characters like Lindy's mother. All in all, an excellent story. 

Below: Lindy enters the surgery, unaware of the skeleton lurking behind her!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Moochers

Jeff and Heather at Peakirk Books came through once again with an excellent copy of The Moochers. This book and its sequel The Moochers Aborad were published in 1950 and 1951, respectively, just before the first Susan book saw the light of day. A third book, Moochers and Prefects, was written in 1951 and the only copy was sent to Lutterworth Press. They later forwarded it to West Regional TV for consideration, but their staff lost it. A pity that the computer technology we enjoy today was not available back then, as a back-up would have been kept for security reasons. Returning to published works, the first Moochers book was set in Cornwall, the only novel of hers to be set there, unless you count The Penhallow Mystery (1967), for which she used the pen name Jean Bell. It is surprising that only this story and Family Trouble are set in Cornwall, since this region was a regular holiday resort for the author and her family for many years. The Moochers Abroad is the second of four books set in Binic in Brittany (preceded, of course, by Breton Holiday (1939), reissued as Breton Adventure, and followed by Twopence Coloured (1954) and Susan's Kind Heart (1965). From the wording of the title, it seems that Moochers and Prefects was a school story. Whether it was as good as the excellent Susan at School and Susan's Trying Term, one can only imagine. A sad loss. But maybe it will turn up someday among some long neglected papers of a West Regional TV employee.
A view of The Moochers from a different angle and, below, the cover of The Moochers Abroad, which I also purchased this week, this time from Pat Barrett Books in Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire. Pat also had a copy of New House at Northmead, and I snapped that up too. All in, I've got a fair number of books on the way: the two Dizzy & Alison books, the two Moochers Books, New House at Northmead, Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and Magic Ships. That should keep me busy for a while! 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Latest Acquisitions

Yesterday, I ordered three books from Jeff at Peakirk Books: Nothing Happened After All, Magic Ships and The Moochers. I would prefer to read the books in the order that they were published but when dealing with an out-of-print author you have to take what is available. So I'll be reading the second Dizzy & Alison book before the first (Anything Can Happen). Prices are soaring. For The Moochers I paid £65 and for Nothing Happened After All I paid £70. Magic Ships was a realtive snip at £30. I've found copies of Northmead Nuisance at prices varying between £170 and £250. In October 2009, I paid £80 for a first edition of A Job for Susan. At the time I thought it was quite expensive but now the asking price is as high as £130. Rare titles can be incredibly dear. The Moochers Abroad is going for £140. If you're looking to collect the more difficult to find Jane Shaw books, prepare your pocket! 


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Amanda's Spies


This is an illustration from Jane Shaw's very first published short story, Amanda's Spies. It appeared in the Collins' Girls' Annual 1941. The story is set in Loch Ard, Scotland and features two girls: Amanda, the eccentric heroine, and her friend Elizabeth. Amanda, after reading a report in the newspapers about a woman single-handedly disarming and capturing a Nazi spy, wishes that she could have a similar exciting adventure and begins to imagine that spies or stray German parachutists could be on the loose in this unlikely location. It is a good, but not brilliant, story with many of the Jane Shaw traits and twists. However, Amanda and Elizabeth were not destined to grace the pages of later annuals.

A photo of Loch Ard. Hard to imagine Nazi spies around here! 

Locations

A List of Jane Shaw's novels according to location:

SCOTLAND:

Arran
Highland Holiday - Collins 1942
Penny Foolish - Nelson, 1953
Susan Muddles Through - Collins, 1960

Connel Ferry
The House of the Glimmering Light - Collins, 1943

Loch Lomond
The Crew of the Belinda - Collins, 1945

ENGLAND:

Dulwich, as Wichwood Village
Susan Pulls the Strings - Collins, 1952
Susan Rushes In - Collins, 1956
No Trouble for Susan - Collins, 1962
A Job for Susan, Collins, 1969

Kent
Susan's Helping Hand - Collins, 1955
Susan at School - Collins, 1958
Willow Green Mystery - Nelson, 1958
Susan's Trying Term - Collins, 1968
New House at Northmead - Nelson, 1961
Northmead Nuisance - Nelson, 1963
as Jean Bell - Paddy Turns Detective - Collins  pbk, 1967

Bath:
Threepenny Bit - Nelson, 1955
Fourpenny Fair - Nelson, 1956
Crooked Sixpence - Nelson, 1958

Cornwall:
The Moochers - Lutterworth, 1950
(as Jean Bell) - The Penhallow Mystery, pbk 1967

FRANCE:
Brittany
Breton Holiday (reissued as Breton Adventure) - Collins, 1939
The Moochers Abroad - Lutterworth, 1951
Twopence Coloured - Nelson, 1954
Susan's Kind Heart - Collins, 1965

Paris
Looking after Thomas - Nelson, 1957
Crooks Tour - Collins, 1962
Anything Can Happen - Nelson, 1964

The Alps
Grindelwald/Interlaken
Bernese Holiday (reissued as Bernese Adventure) - Collins, 1940
The Tall Man - Nelson, 1960
Crooks Tour - Collins, 1962

Lucerne
Susan Interferes - Collins, 1957

Innsbruck/Austria
Fivepenny Mystery - Nelson, 1958

ITALY

Venice
Where is Susan? - Collins, 1968

SOUTH AFRICA

Venture to South Africa - Nelson, 1960
Nothing Happened After All - Nelson, 1965

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Adventures of a Snowman

The Adventures of a Snowman was originally published in the Collins' Girls' Annual 1954, above, and was reprinted in the  Crackerjack Book for Girls in 1959, below. For reasons unexplained, the story is not included in Susan and Friends: The Jane Shaw Companion. This may be because it is a story for younger children or because it does not fit into any of the sections of the book, i.e., Jane Shaw's France or Jane Shaw's South Africa. However, the annuals are currently available from several booksellers in the UK, Canada and Australia, and are not very high in price.

Friday, March 11, 2011

LIST OF SHORT STORIES BY JANE SHAW

Listed below is every known short story by Jane Shaw that was published in Collins’ annuals (and often reprinted in later annuals or compendiums), with their dates of publication when available.
STORIES FOR COLLINS’ GIRLS’ ANNUAL
AMANDA’S SPIES (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1941)
SARA’S ADVENTURE (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1953; reprinted in The Crackerjack Book for Girls, Collins, 1959)
THE ADVENTURES OF A SNOWMAN (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1954; reprinted in The Crackerjack Book for Girls, Collins, 1959). This is the only short story for older readers on this list that is not included in Susan and Friends: The Jane Shaw Companion (Bettany Press, 2002).
THE WILSONS WON’T MIND (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1955; reprinted in The Treasure Book for Girls, Collins, 1958, and Ballet Stories, edited by Ian Woodward, 1982). This is the first of four short stories featuring Susan that were published between 1955 and 1960).
SUSAN’S SCHOOL PLAY (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1957; reprinted in The Crackerjack Girls Own Book, Collins, undated)
SUSAN AND THE HOME-MADE BOMB (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1958)
THE MATCHMAKERS (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1959). This is the only short story set in South Africa.
SUSAN AND THE SPAE-WIFE (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1960). Set on Arran, where the author and her husband would later retire in 1978, this is the last of the short stories to feature Susan.
FAMILY TROUBLE (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1961)
CROOKS LIMITED (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1962). This is the only other story featuring Ricky, Julie and Fay, from Crooks Tour, and the only Jane Shaw story set entirely in her native Glasgow.
JUMBLE SALE (Collins’ Girls’ Annual, 1963)
THE PICTURE (Susan and Friends: The Jane Shaw Companion). This story was found among the author’s papers after her death. Exactly when it was written cannot be established. It is set in Paris and, similar to a scene from Crooks Tour, there are references to Utrillo and a woman struggling to run a restaurant frequented by starving artists, suggesting that it could have been written in the early sixties. The main protagonists are two older English girls, Carol and the unnamed narrator. It is not possible to say whether this book was actually intended for a Collins annual, but since it shares the romantic theme introduced into FAMILY TROUBLE, it has been included in this list.
A GIRL WITH IDEAS (Susan and Friends: The Jane Shaw Companion). More a novella than a short story, this work started life as ADVENTURES OF A MOUSE. The ideas from that story were then expanded to form A GIRL WITH IDEAS. Jane Shaw’s correspondence shows that the story was written at the behest of Collins, beginning in the mid sixties. However, it only appeared in print in Susan and Friends in 2002.
STORIES FOR VERY YOUNG CHILDREN
The exact publication dates of these stories cannot be determined, but they appeared in various Collins’ Children’s Annuals.
ALADDIN’S LAMP GROWS OLD
THE GIANT’S WASHING (a Griselda story)
TIGER KITTEN
THE MAGIC BASKET (a Griselda story)
THE CAT’S GRANDMOTHER (a Griselda story)
GRISELDA AND THE GOBLIN
GRISELDA AND THE BABY ELF
THE ONION MAN
THE CAT AND THE CABIN BOY (Treasure Trove for Boys and Girls, Collins, undated)
THE DOG WHO COULDN'T LEARN TRICKS (Treasure Box for Boys and Girls, Collins, undated)
GRISELDA AND THE RAIN FAIRIES (Treasure Book for Boys and Girls, Collins, undated)
THE LONELY GIANT (Treasure Book for Boys and Girls, Collins, undated)
VISITING A FAIRY (My Book of Elves and Fairies, Collins, undated)
THE TALE OF THREE PUPPIES (Five Listen With Mother Tales Number 6, BBC Books, undated)
STORIES FOR LUTTERWORTH
The author noted that five of her stories were sold to Lutterworth Press in 1950 and 1951. As far as can be determined, the stories remained unpublished.
A PONY OF YOUR OWN (sold on 10 March, 1950)
NO ROBBERY (sold on 10 March, 1950)
I RODE WITH THE COVENANTERS (sold on 17 August, 1950)
MERE AND MOORLAND (sold in January, 1951)
HEATHER MIXTURE (sold in December, 1951)
STORIES FOR DIE BRANDWAG
Die Brandwag was an Afrikaans newspaper that purchased six of Jane Shaw’s short stories and translated them into Afrikaans for publication. Only one story (Die Man Langsaan) is known to have been published, as a clipping of it was found among the author’s papers.
THE MAN NEXT DOOR (Die Man Langsaan, 10 December, 1954)
THE MATCHMAKERS
BIRTHDAY
PATCHWORK QUILT
TWO’S COMPANY
THE QUARREL

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Family Trouble (1961)

Set in a small village in the north of Cornwall, near Bude, this short story, published in 1961 in the Collins' Girls' Annual, stars Nicky, daughter of the local vicar, her three sisters and their neighbours the Trevelyans. Jane Shaw was clearly a real asset to Collins by this time, with the popularity of the Susan books at their zenith and Crooks Tour in the works, ensuring lavish illustrations for her short stories.  
While climbing a tree, Nicky falls on Edward Trevelyan as he returns from a term at university. She is surprised to find him much changed. Unusual for a Jane Shaw story, the sixteen-year-old girl is immediately smitten by Edward. One of the few stories to contain a real romantic element, this story is also a departure from the typical JS style because it is told in the first person. This style was used in only a handful of her tales, most notably Susan's School Play, A Girl with Ideas and the Thomas books. In Family Trouble it works very well, as Nicky's thought processes are the key to all the humour in the story. 
In addition to the romantic theme, there is a typical Jane Shaw mystery afoot. Little sister Tubs excitedly tells her family that the police are on the lookout for an escaped convict from Dartmoor.
On the way to the local carnival, Nicky, dressed as a witch, bumps into her other little sister Ruth, who is dressed up as a Christmas cracker!
Nicky and her sisters have captured the convict. Or have they?
There has to be a happy ending for Nicky in her only appearance in a Jane Shaw story. A pity we never see her again. The family had potential...

The annual the story appeared in. Very nice cover. My copy has the following dedication on the inside front cover: To Libby, from Mummy, Xmas 1962. Poor Libby, whoever she was, doesn't appear to have had very loving parents!

Nicky tells us that the sea lies just across the fields from her village and in the distance she can just make out the isle of Lundy. This is the only Jane Shaw short story set in Cornwall. However, the Moochers novels are set there and Tessa, Susan's friend at St. Ronan's, lives there with her grandmother.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Book of the Week: Breton Adventure

BRETON ADVENTURE
When I first put pen to paper about Breton Adventure, I was, to put it mildly, less than complimentary. Although it is Jane Shaw’s first book, it was the fourteenth one that I read. After enjoying Crooks Tour, the whole Susan series and a number of short stories, with their over the top Scottish heroines and fast-paced action, I wasn’t prepared for what lay in store when I opened the first Caroline and Sara book. Yes, there are the Scottish heroines, and yes, there is the madcap banter. But the pace…
The story starts off like many other Jane Shaw works. Caroline and her cousin Sara are going to spend two months in Brittany, and the purpose of this holiday is to improve their French. There is a mad taxi ride from St. Brieuc to the sleepy village of St. Brioc, where the girls will stay at the home of Madame de St. Brioc, with whom Sara’s mother had attended school in Switzerland years before.
However, once they arrive, the story really slows down. They unpack, bickering all the way, and then go down to dinner and mull over the food. A series of typical holiday events then follows. They go to the village to look at the shops, they go to the beach to swim, they have lunch, they meet people, they are surprised by the food and the people, unable to understand how the French can do without bacon and eggs at breakfast… And on it goes. A couple of new characters are brought in: Madame’s cousin Michel and her son Raymond; the large Duval family, who arrive at mealtimes and insist on kissing and shaking hands with everyone, which Caroline especially finds embarrassing. My first impression was that chunks of the book read more like a travel guide than a novel. And yet, on my second reading, I found myself being absorbed into this tranquil little world, just enjoying it and going with the flow.
There are a couple of nice excursions. First, they go on a visit to a battleship in the bay of St. Quay. Sara is befriended by a young sailor and ends up getting left behind when the boat takes the others back to shore, providing her with an opportunity to raid the ship’s pantries. On another day, they go shrimping on one of the little islands just visible from Madame’s home. They celebrate the fourteenth of July, the birthday of the French Republic. Sara causes havoc at a circus, leading to the escape of a performing chimp. She also loses her watch and offers a reward to the finder, resulting in Madame’s house being overrun by bounty hunters attempting to pass off old, broken watches as her lost treasure. And speaking of lost treasure, no Jane Shaw story would be complete without a heavy chest buried or hidden somewhere on Madame’s property that will solve all the family’s problems and get Raymond out of a boring life as a civil servant so that he can pursue his dreams. Will the girls find it? A purely rhetorical question!
The book has all the features that would later become Jane Shaw’s trademarks. The cousins are, like Susan and Ricky in later works, skivers when it comes to learning French. They don’t seem to improve very much and take every chance they get to speak English. The family they are staying with, despite having lots of property and farms, is described as being short of cash, and a little windfall, such as a chest of buried treasure, would do just the trick at this time. There is the occasional little ironic twist at the end of a chapter, such as when Sara spends a day shrimping and then forgets her catch on the beach. There are the meals and numerous stops for cakes, ices and cold drinks. And there is no romance. Readers might expect Raymond or Michel to fall for one of the girls, but it doesn’t happen. They all become friends and play tennis together and go out for the day, but it goes no further than that. Caroline and Sara, both sixteen years old, seem a little immature for their age.
My opinion of the book has changed a great deal over the last year. When I discovered that it was originally titled Breton Holiday, this made me look at it in a different light. The Adventure is a slightly abridged version. Perhaps due to the soaring cost of paper after World War II, the book was reissued in a shorter form and the publishers felt obliged to rename it, perhaps not giving the new name that much thought. But thinking of it as a Holiday rather than an Adventure does make a difference. It has been said by other reviewers that the weakness of the book is that it has no plot. This may be due to the fact that it is only in Chapter 6, while they are on their shrimping expedition, that Madame reveals the key aspects of her family history that will eventually lead to the treasure, leaving the reader for the first five chapters wondering where the story is going. There is also the fact that the family doesn’t seem particularly interested in the treasure. Maybe if these aspects had been reworked a little, the book would be more exciting.
Having said that, it is hard to see how tampering with the story in this way would make much of a difference since the mystery aspect of this story is really only of secondary importance. The main focus is on the girls and their holiday. Written in 1939, when only the very rich had a chance to travel, the simple fact of being set in France would have been enough to attract curious readers. Minor aspects of everyday life that are casually mentioned in the story provided children with some insight into other lands and their mysterious inhabitants, so near and yet so far away. Despite the hot weather, the native women of Brittany dress in black. We also discover other little details, especially about the food. For instance, despite their culinary talents and love of food, the French do not take afternoon tea. They also serve each dish separately at dinner time. In the 1930s and 1940s, such tidbits would be an exciting revelation to British children.
The stars of the book are not only Sara and Caroline, but Brittany itself. Jane Shaw had visited Binic (the model for St. Brioc) years before, and her loving and painstaking depiction of it and its inhabitants show that she was obviously deeply affected by this land, its coast and its mysterious islands. Rereading the story, I was happy to let the author guide me through this country and learn its ways. It’s also fun to watch the two cousins interact. Sara, short and bespectacled, is capable of an endless stream of talk and is constantly trying to get by without wearing her glasses, usually with disastrous consequences. Caroline is taller and thinner, and apparently more sensible, often embarrassed by Sara’s antics. They go well together, something like a female Laurel and Hardy, although sometimes I got the impression that some of Caroline’s lines would sound better coming from Sara. I clearly see in Sara the blueprint for Susan, while Caroline appears to be a composite of Charlotte and Midge. But the girls are also a great success in their own right, as can be testified to by generations of young readers, seeing that the pair remained popular right up to the 1960s.
I wouldn’t go as far as some reviewers who claim that Breton Holiday was Jane Shaw’s best work. It grows on you over time, but does not have the quality and more clearly defined characters of the Susan or Penny stories. Nevertheless, it is a fine debut from a very talented author. Sara and Caroline would go on to star in two more novels (Bernese Holiday, 1940; and Highland Holiday, 1942) and one short story (Sara’s Adventure, 1953). The focus of Jane Shaw’s writing would then shift to Susan and Penny. These characters, like their predecessors, would also visit Binic and have their own Breton adventures.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Left-Handed Tumfy

The cover of a book for very young readers, Left-Handed Tumfy, published by Lutterworth in 1962, illustrated by Gwyneth Mamlock.