Book of the Week, children's books

Book of the Week: The Chalet School Wins the Trick

As mentioned yesterday, very much a week on my sickbed last week with a lot of rereading going on, which left an interesting array of options for today – so I’ve setttled on a sort of re-read – I’ve read the abridged version of Chalet School Wins the Trick before, but never the original version, so here we are, another week another Girls Own pick! Apologies for the slightly gloomy/shadowy picture – it’s so overcast here you would not believe

The Chalet School Wins the Trick is number 46 in the series and in many ways could be considered Peak Chalet School Tropes. But I’ll come back to that. First, lets have the plot: Just before the start of term, Miss Dene catches a group of children trying to start a campfire in the middle of the school’s best cricket pitch. She sends them along their way – but the group swear they’ll get their revenge on the school. Thus the summer term is marked by a series of pranks pulled by the quintet affecting the pupils, the staff and ex pupils.

So if you were playing Elinor Brent Dyer Bingo, this would get you a full house. We have: Joey saves the day, Mary Lou Butts in, Joan Baker being “not the right type”, sick parents/relatives at the San where the children don’t know, very weird medical treatments (a scalded arm into a vat of flour), lots of unaccompanied Child Wandering, a fete, a death of (another) parent, women’s careers being thrown over because of housework and the all time great – a massive continuity fluff within the same book. I think the only thing its missing is Joey singing someone out of an illness/coma!

As with so many reviews of Girls Own stuff that I write, this is not a book that you can easily get hold of – and nor do I recommend you to, unless you’re already interested in the oevre. It was one of the rarer books – it is from 1961, so fairly late in the series and so it had less time to be reprinted than the earlier ones. And it is full of references to escapades in previous books, which might get tiresome if you haven’t read them. If you’ve never read a Chalet School book, you should probably start with Chalet School in Exile – which is probably EBD’s best book – grappling with how to deal with a British school in Austria as the Nazis swept through Europe and what women and girls could do about it. It’s not your normal school story. Other than that, you could always start at the beginning.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Children's books, Series I love

Book of the Week: Shocks for the Chalet School

An unusual choice for BotW this week – Shocks for the Chalet School was one of my post-Paris purchases from Girls Gone By and it turned out to be that rarest of things – a Chalet School book that I hadn’t read.  I know. Who knew.  And this also gives me hope that there may be more!

Shocks for the Chalet School is the book where Emerence Hope bursts onto the scene.  Now I think that the reason why I thought that I had read this is partly because her early antics are talked about so much in the later books, and partly because it takes place at the same time as Chalet School in the Oberland.

For those of you who are not Chalet afficionados (and I appreciate that early/mid 20th century boarding stories may not be your speciality) a quick recap on where we stand at this point in the series: It’s after the war and the school is on St Briavels Island after the problem with the drains at Plas Howell. The new term means a whole new team of prefects – as the finishing branch is just starting in Switzerland and many of the Sixth formers have left to go there. Mary-Lou is still a Middle-schooler, Jo and her family are in Canada with Madge and her family and the book opens with news of the arrival of Jo’s Second Twins and a letter from former teacher Miss Stewart (now married) apologising for having unwittingly unleashed Emerence on the school.

With me so far?  Really all you need to know is that a (very) naughty new girl is arriving at an established boarding school, where an inexperienced team of prefects will have to try and deal with her.  Who knew it was that simple to explain!

I’ve mentioned my abiding love of the Chalet School before on this blog, and reading one for the first time reminds me how much.  Yes, they are dated – and in the Girls Gone By reprints you get the original unabridged text complete with smoking teachers and problematic racial sterotypes. They are of their time.  The plots are some times repetitive; Elinor M Brent-Dyer has favourites and doesn’t know how to make lists (or do continuity in some cases); there’s an unbelievably high number of dead parents and “kill or cure” operations; there are huge families, religious messages and you would never try and bring children up like this today.  But with an appropriately sceptical eye and a tongue in cheek where necessary, they are joyful.  No one gets bullied, very few problems are completely unsolvable, no one is homesick (for long at least), Joey (the series’ main heroine) can sing people out of comas and if you’re a good girl, you’ll get to marry a doctor and live happily ever after, popping out babies in a Chalet near the school!

Basically a new (to me) Chalet School book was exactly what I needed to bring me out of my World Events-based slump.  And I got an unabridged copy of Rivals for the Chalet School a couple of days later too so got to read the missing bits in that as well.

If you’re not already a boarding school fan, then these probably aren’t for you – so may I instead recommend Cathy Bramley’s Wickham Hall serialisation – the final part of which came out last week.