Friday, 25 February 2011

Saplings by Noel Streatfeild - Persephone Weekend

Persephone Weekend is kindly organised by Verity from Cardigangirlverity and Claire from Paperback Reader and is running all of this weekend. Please visit their blogs in order to find out what other books are being read for the events and to look out for the wonderful giveaways occurring.


First published by Collins in 1945, republished as a Persephone Classic in 2009

As the outgoing tide uncovered the little stretch of sand amongst the pebbles, the children took possession of it marking it as their own with their spades, pails, shrimping nets and their mother's camp stool.
It was early and the beach was almost deserted. There were a few bathers of the sort that swim for exercise, but the majority of the bathing machines and tents were empty. The sea was grey-blue, spangled with gold dancing specks. Far out the raft bobbed.

Like many of us, I grew up secretly wishing I could be a member of the Fossil family from Noel Streatfeild's children's book 'Ballet Shoes'. This book was cherished throughout my childhood and is still loved today.  Over the years I began to collect her other children's book, but I was quite surprised to discover last year that Noel Streatfeild had also written books for adults.  So it was an easy decision for me to pick Saplings as my Persephone choice.

Saplings is a much darker tale then any of the children's books written by Streatfeild, but ultimately it deals with children. The story revolves around a happy, middle class family who are shown in the opening pages to be enjoying a family holiday at the seaside. The children are carefree and enjoying the holiday in the hope that it will last forever.  The war is still just a rumour and they have no need to fear the future.  However their father Alex, who is very much a family man, is more aware than others that their lives will change, so he goes to great lengths to make their holiday together one to remember. 

As the story progresses, World War 2 commences and you are given a clear insight into how the war alters the family. Each and every person, from the young to the old are ravaged by the effects of war and you cannot help but want to comfort them all. 

The main theme of this book is the effects of the war on the children. The last line of the book could not be more ironic, as the house help Mrs Oliver announces 'We got a lot to be thankful for in this country. Our kids 'aven't suffered 'o-ever else 'as' This could not be further from the truth, as you witness the downward spiral of devastation on  each child within the book as war rips apart the close knit family.

I felt such grief for the children in the story.  Each turning in a different direction, which took them further away from their mother. Those maternal ties, stretching and snapping the further they grew apart.  Laurel, once a loving thoughtful child, now disagreeable and bringing shame on the family by being expelled from school.  Tony, an inquisitive child, who turns into a 'surly, unco-operative boy.' Tuesday, such a delicate child to begin with, left in a world of imaginary friends, unable to communicate with the real people in her life. Kim was the only one I found to not have really changed. He had always been self centred, the war just increased this behaviour. 

Their mother Lena, was not a loving mother to begin with; after the death of her husband, she lost her ability to cope and the children were separated and sent to live with different relatives.  I couldn't feel angry by her behaviour, her abandoning the children, as I could not imagine how her devastating circumstances would affect me if I had experienced the same. You imagine that you would be strong for children, but you really could not determine your actions. 

You witness all the adults within the family trying to help. Uncles and aunts and close household staff, trying to do what is best, but all failing the children dismally, unable to grasp the effects the separations and change of routines would have on them. They are too wrapped up with their own lives dramatically changing to see how the children are coping.

I felt that this book should be included in secondary school curriculums. The children of today would realise how lucky they are, if they could see the devastation that World War 2 caused to children just like themselves. Children being sent to live with complete strangers, never knowing whether they would see their parents again. Waiting for a telegram to tell them that their parents have died.

This book is so beautifully written; you believe so highly in the children, your motherly instincts kick in and you want to take them home and wrap them in cotton wool to preserve them from any more damage.
I adored this book. I adored the children in it, (even though they broke my  heart) and I know it has only increased my love for Noel Streatfeild's books. This woman not only wrote for children, but she understood them.

22 comments:

  1. It's indeed a heartbreaking book, but SO good. I knew you'd love it!

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  2. Happy Persephone Reading Weekend! Or, not so happy, in the case of Saplings...

    You have compelled me to read it, Vivienne (as did Ana before you); it's one of a handful of Persephones that I have been hoarding to read at the "right" moment.

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  3. Paperback Reader - Happy Persephone Weekend to you too! It feels like Christmas! Reading Saplings with a box of tissues by your side.

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  4. Thanks for reviewing this, Vivienne, you have confirmed why it's on my wishlist. My local library can't seem to source a copy so I will have to try elsewhere although I thought for some reason it might be out of print - quelle horreur!

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  5. lovely treez - it is a beautiful book. I hope you manage to find a copy soon. The libraries don't stock enough of the Persephone books.

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  6. Somehow I don't think you realize how lucky you are as a child until you look back on your childhood, even if you do read stories like this. This book sounds fantastic!

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  7. I admit that I'm scared of this author. I'm afraid that because I didn't read him when I was young (never even heard of him until last year) that we won't get along...

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  8. Vivienne, this truly sounds like a must-read book. Wonderful review, from first to last line.

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  9. Great review. You do make me want to go back and read some older books, I read way to few

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  10. I loved Streatfeild's books growing up and even though I tend to shy away from heartbreaking books I think I might just trust Streatfeild enough to leave myself in her hands.

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  11. I was eying this one so I was thrilled to read your thoughts.

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  12. Glad you liked it. It sounds like a beuatifully written book.

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  13. I have been collecting all the shoe books by this author--never had heard of here until watching the movie, "You've Got Mail" many years ago. Even though I have not read any of them, I am collecting them for someday. Tomorrow I am heading to the library to get a copy of Saplings. It does sound sad, but I am kind of on a WWII reading jag again--this seems to happen in waves at least once a year. Thanks for such a great review.
    *smiles*

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  14. I read Ballet Shoes for the first time last year I believe. It seems she writes children well no matter what.

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  15. I can't stand it too if I read about children in war. It just breaks my heart. I'm going to try looking for this book.

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  16. I like having read tweets about books being read I then read the review. Your tweets all make sense now!

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  17. I have this one lined up and I cannot wait to read it. I remember Ana's review from last year vividly, and yours only contributed to the feeling that I need to read this soon.

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  18. This sounds wonderful. I never read any of these when I was a kid. Never even heard of any of them until reading the blogs. Glad you liked it.

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  19. I don;'t know if you have access to a library, but you might find that they have some of her other, non-reprinted, adult novels in some storage somewhere...

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  20. I think this and Good Evening, Mrs. Craven are the two top Persephones that I want. I am glad you enjoyed this one so much!

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  21. Also just noticed you changed your blog layout! No more cupcakes, I see!

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