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.