Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Magic Summer by Noel Streatfeild (1966)

I bid on and won this beautiful old copy in a silent auction of books at a library; it is an old elementary school copy.  I’m loving old library copies right now; there is something comforting about owning an old book that had been loving held by many hands and read eagerly by many eyes.  I’m buying altogether too many of them - although, is there such a thing as “too many books?”  I don’t think so.  I want to be surrounded by books for the rest of my life.

The book may be a lovely object, but I have to admit, I didn’t particularly care for it.  Four children are forced by dire circumstances - a deathly ill father far away from London in Asia, and a mother who has to go tend to him and bring him home - to say with a mad aunt in the wilds of Ireland (circa 1966).   Sounds like fun, but something about my pesky modern sensibilities made me question much of what was going on.  I recognize this mad aunt from my own childhood - she’s a cross between my reclusive, witch-like elderly neighbor growing up and my very dramatically creative art teacher from the same time period.  But no modern parent would run off and leave her children with such an unknown quantity today.  That’s grinchy of me, I do understand that.  But there was plenty about this book I just didn’t buy.  The characters seemed undeveloped, and their annoyance at this mad aunt throughout the book, instead of annoying me, was completely understandable.  I, too, would not have wanted to stay at a dirty, scary house with a crazy woman.  There is also this nutty, unbelievable subplot with a boy trying to escape from an unnamed communist country hiding out in the aunt’s house that just seemed really extra to me - why in was it even there?  I know Noel Streatfeild is beloved - I tried and failed to read Ballet Shoes (or maybe I was trying to listen to is?  I don’t remember), but I don’t think I can count myself as a fan.

Who I am a fan of?  Edward Ardizzone.  He’s one of my favorite illustrators.  He’s the reason I bought the book in the first place, and why I kept on reading.  Among many books, he illustrated one of my top favorites, Eleanor Estes’s Pinky Pye.  His illustrations are pen and ink (I think), and I’m not sure why  I love them so much - I just do.  I think I would call them “impressionistic” except I don’t know if I’m right about that or not.

The Magic SummerThe Magic Summer by Noel Streatfeild
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t think I’m a fan of Noel Streatfeild. I didn’t particularly care for this book; I thought the characters were disjointed and the plot was unbelievable - and not in a magic way. The cover of this book says that it is “a story of mystery and adventure in Ireland” - which was patently untrue (at least to me).

Who I am a fan of is the illustrator, Edward Ardizzone - it was he who kept me reading until the end. I purchased this as a lovely old used library copy, and as an object of art, this is a beautiful book. Ardizzone’s illustrations are elegant little pen and ink impressionistic portraits and scenes. I’m not suggesting skipping the book and just looking at the pictures. But I know I liked the pictures much better than the actual book.

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