Book of the Week, Children's books, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Judith Teaches

Gosh this was so hard this week.  My favourite book I read last week was one I read to review for Novelicious (which is returning to the internets in full force very shortly) and my rules dictate that I can’t make that my book of the week here as well.  My second favourite book of last week was the second Corinna Chapman book – and my rules dictate that I can’t pick that because I picked that series last week.  So after that it’s not so much Book of the Week as Book I Quite Liked of the Week.  And that’s not really in the spirit of the thing.  I was prepared to cheat if I managed to finish one of the books I had on the go on Monday morning, but I didn’t so I couldn’t justify that either.

So what I’ve decided to do is write about Judith Teaches by Mabel Esther Allen – which I read last week and which interests me on a few levels.  Judith Teaches was part of a series of career books for girls published by Bodley Head in the 50s.  Various different authors wrote the books which each feature a different career suitable for young ladies to do before they got married (and had to give up working to look after their husbands).  Other titles in the series cover jobs like floristry, farming and modelling as well as some  becoming a doctor or being a veterinary student.

Judith Teaches by Mabel Esther Allan
My newly reissued paperback copy of Judith Teaches. Check out the retro!

Judith Teaches covers the first year of the teaching of Judith and her friend Bronwen who get jobs at a secondary modern school straight out of training college.  They have a friend who is already teaching at the same school who they share a flat with, and although the book mostly focuses on Judith you hear about the other girls lives as well.  The three are clearly Nice Well Brought Up Grammar School/Boarding School girls who have a bit of a culture shock with the pupils at their new school (dirty! desperate to leave school to go work in the factory! not interested in reading! can’t spell!) and some of these sections feel very of their time.  But it does cover the potential ups and downs of teaching in a way that would have given the school girls that it was aimed at a realistic look at what they might be letting themselves in for – not all the children will be clever, not all the other teachers will be friendly, it will be stressful and tiring and you won’t be able to please everyone – in a way that you don’t get in boarding school books (which as regular readers will know Mabel Esther Allen also wrote along with my beloved Drina books).

I don’t think I knowingly read a career book as a child – unless Shirley Flight, Air Hostess counts – as the only ones I ever remember seeing were about nursing and that only interested me (as a weekend job, while being a teacher during the week) for a few days when I was about 6, so I’m not sure how representative this is of the genre, but Judith Teaches gave me several interested hours of reading – and a few wry smiles.  It also made me realise how far the world has come for women in 50 years.  After all, no one’s going to expect me to give up my job if I get married and I don’t think anyone would think I’m over the hill yet.  There’s still a long way to go – but I like to hope that my sort-of-nieces who are at primary school today won’t need a book to tell them that they could be a doctor if they wanted to.

Anyway, Judith Teaches has just been republished by Girls Gone By if you’re geeky like me and want to have a peruse for yourself.

Happy reading!

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

Book of the Week: Chiltern School

This week’s Book of the Week is Mabel Esther Allen’s Chiltern School.  Regular readers will already be aware of my love of the classic school story and this one last week was a real treat for my sleepy post-nightshift brain.

Chiltern School tells the story of Rose Lesslyn – who has lived with her grandparents since her mother died and her father moved to work abroad to get away from his pain (as people frequently seemed to do in books in this era).  Her father decides that she needs to go to school – much to her grandmother’s dismay – and she’s dispatched from her home on the Isle of Wight to a rather progressive (for the 1950s anyway) school in the middle of the Chiltern hills.  There she struggles to fit in but eventually finds her feet, makes friends and (re)discovers a hidden talent.

Chiltern School was written in the 1950s – and sold to a publisher, but never published until Allen published it privately in the 1990s.  And she was only able to do that because of the success of a reissue of another of her series – the Drina books in the 1990s.  The Drina series (the subject of one of my very early posts on the blog) were written under one of her pen names – Jean Estoril.  I had no idea about this until I read the forward of this book – I’d bought it because I’d really enjoyed another of her (many) other books The View Beyond My Father (about a young blind girl escaping from her domineering father in the 1910s) back in primary school days.  I was thrilled to discover that my love of the Drina series in the early 90s had meant that Allen had money to do this in her old age – and that someone who’s books I’d liked so much had written so much more than I thought!

And Rose does have similarities to my beloved Drina (that series started 7 years later). Both live with their grandparents – with a stern grandmother and a kindlier grandfather, although both of Drina’s parents are dead as opposed to just one of Rose’s (there are a lot of dead parents in children’s books of this era).  And trying not to give too much of the plot away here, Drina doesn’t know about her background at the start of the series but later choses to keep it secret – while Rose knows but doesn’t tell.

Both also feature the Chilterns – Drina’s ballet school has a boarding department there, where she stays in Drina Dances in Exile (the green book as it always is in my head because of it’s cover) and where she returns to several times in later books to visit friends.  Now since reading Drina, I have acquired a boyfriend who comes from that part of the world – so I got an extra level of enjoyment from Chiltern School’s mentions of places that his family live or have lived and where we have been.  And the area is a big feature in the book – it’s beautifully described – you can practically feel the wind rushing through your hair as Rose and her friends cycle around.

It’s not perfect – it is of it’s time and is not as diverse as you would (hope to) find a children’s book written now would be.  But Allen’s writing style is charming and every readable – this is a fun romp that will make you wish you could have gone to boarding school (in the 1950s) with Rose and all her friends.  That is if you couldn’t be a ballerina and be Drina…

My edition was published by Girls Gone By – who as I’m sure I’ve said before – specialise in republishing classic children’s stories that are now out of print.  They do the same for my beloved Chalet School and for authors like Lorna Hill, Malcolm Saville and many more.  Check out their website and see if they’ve done any of your childhood favourites.

I went straight on from this to Allen’s Ballet Family books (bought in the same spending spree back at the start of the year) which appear to have been published under Allen’s name and then reissued under the Estoril pseudonym in the 90s to capitalise on the success of Drina.  I don’t know how I missed them at the time – but they are a cross between Drina and Lorna Hill’s Jane goes to the Wells – with a ballet school that’s not The Royal Ballet and a family of 4 ballet students – who’s mother is still a ballerina.  And I really want to go back and reread the Drina series too.

Happy reading this week!