As a child I loved Noel Streatfeild's most famous work Ballet Shoes. I had dreams of being a ballerina (which were never to materialise, although I did do a few dance exams) which were pretty much exclusively because of that book. Yet for some reason I never read any more of Streatfeild's books, until now.
Vintage Classics published this edition of The Bell Family this spring. Originally a radio series in the 1950s, the Bell's are a typical post-war family struggling to make ends meet. They have to 'make do and mend', utilise hand me down's from the wealthier side of their family and look for ways to bring in extra money. There isn't much of a plot, but that really doesn't matter- it is very much character driven. Each of the children brings their own personality and charm to the book-Paul, the sensible eldest child, Jane who harbours dreams of attending ballet school, rash and mischievous Ginnie who is desperate to find her role in the family (I must admit to having a soft spot for her. She's a feisty, determined madam) and baby of the family Angus, who collects all manner of bugs in his quest to start his own zoo. Then there is Esau the dog, who the Bell's are convinced is the most beautiful dog in Britain. Mrs Gage, the housekeeper, has oodles of compassion and is a lovable addition to the character list.
The relationships between the children are a heart warming reminder that being part of a family unit involves hard work and compromise, emphasised by the teamwork ethic which is a running theme throughout the book.
As with any text of this age (it is 60 years this year since The Bell Family was first published) it contains words that are no longer in common usage. However, there is a useful glossary in the extra features, alongside detailed author facts, information about life in the 1950s and a quiz to find out which Bell child you most closely resemble. There are also beautiful line drawing illustrations by Shirley Hughes OBE, drawn in 1954, which compliment the story perfectly.
I can't say how much I enjoyed this book which reflected on an era so different to the consumerist society we currently live in. It has similarities to classics such as The Railway Children, and I think The Bell Family deserves the same level of acclaim- it has been overlooked for far too long. I'm going to keep my copy, something I rarely do these days, because I know I will read it again in the future
Vintage Classics has a diverse range of titles, and the quality of the books is second to none. They are good value for money and have modern covers to appeal to a young audience. The hardest part is choosing which of these timeless children's books to read next-although I must admit I'm very tempted by Emil and the Detectives.
The Bell Family is out now published by Vintage Classics, an imprint of Random House.
With thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.