Thursday, 3 March 2011

Review: Apple Bough & When the Siren Wailed

Apple Bough  was my absolute favourite book for a while, when I was around 8. I used to borrow it from my school library over and over again, until they made me let somebody else have a turn. It is the most comforting, reassuring book I can think of, and rereading it didn't disappoint me.
Apple Bough is a big, old house, with an overgrown garden. The kind of house that's a bit dilapidated, a bit the worse for wear, kind of like the threadbare teddy you've had forever, whose ear is falling off because you cuddled him too much. It is home to the Forum children: Myra, Sebastian, Wolfgang, and Ethel, and their parents. When Sebastian is eight, he gets noticed as a child prodigy violinist, and all of the children have to go on tour with him. Apple Bough is sold, and the children become 'world citizens'.
Basically, the book is about children who want a home. The obstacle to this is that all of the younger children are extraordinarily talented: Sebastian a violinist, Wolfgang an actor and wannabe writer of pop songs, and Ethel a dancer. What Streatfeild does so well here, as in so much of her work, is to present the plight of the child who believes herself to be completely untalented and worthless.
There's a huge wish fulfilment quality in Streatfeild's work, and the endings are almost always happy. Of the novels that I've read so far, the ones that I adore the most are the ones with the most fantastically impossible happy endings; the kind of endings you always want in reality, and only ever get in books. This is still one of my absolute favourite books, ever.

Rating: *****

When the Siren Wailed

I thought that I hadn't read this book, but when I got about half way through, I realised that I had. And there's a reason why I didn't remember it. It's the first Noel Streatfeild book I've read that was only OK. It's set in the Second World War, and if I'm honest, the central characters, Laura, Andy and Tim Clarke, reminded me a lot of the children from Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I do want to just point out that I totally love Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but the children in it, as they do here, feel a bit like caricatures. There was no central character to immediately fall in love with, and for me that was a huge loss to the story.
This book had none of the comfort and charm of Apple Bough, and, reading it directly after the other, that bothered me. For me, the major charm of Streatfeild's work is the satisfaction of children who have big dreams, managing to find a way to make them come true, and that was missing here. I've read a lot of literature, both now and as a kid, about the war, and while it's always been a subject that's interested me, and I do feel it's particularly important for kids to learn about the things that happened then, 8 year old me wishes that Noel Streatfeild, for me the queen of safe, comforting, uplifting and inspiring books which make children feel they can do anything, hadn't ventured into this kind of subject.

Rating: ***


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  2. I feel EXACTLY the same way as you about both these books. Mind you, I'd real Noel Streatfeild's shopping list. I think my favourite moment is in the Painted Garden when the children get to meet Grown Up Fossils :) Funny how most of the books are just variations on a theme and yet they are all so brilliant!

  3. Oh I love The Painted Garden! :-) if there's a book that'll make me break my year long book buying ban, that'll be it!!

  4. I havent read this novel, i will add it to my list of books to read!

  5. You should!:-) if you're nice to me I might let you borrow it,oh curly haired little sister of mine :-P