sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

June 1, 2010

into the stacks: the painted garden
posted by soe 1:53 am

Before we go back and get caught up on a few books read earlier this year, I thought we’d cover the one I finished yesterday:

The Painted Garden: A Story of a Holiday in Hollywood, by Noel Streatfeild

From the jacket: “Most children, you might think, would look forward to a holiday in California. But at first he Winter family didn’t want to go at all. For Rachel it meant giving up her first real job as a dancer; for Tim it meant missing the chance of being taught the piano by the great Jeremy Caulder; and for Jane, the middle one, the difficult one who didn’t shine at anything in particular, it was worst of all — she had to leave her dog, Chewing-gum, behind. Yet they couldn’t make a fuss, for their father had been ill and needed to convalesce in the sunshine. When they arrived so many exciting things happened they forgot their black moods of disappointment. Rachel met Posy Fossil, now a famous ballerina, and her sister Pauline; Tim found a piano; and Jane, who behaved rather badly because she was missing Chewing-gum so much, had the biggest adventure of all…”

My take: Better known as Movie Shoes, this story follows the three Winter children from their London home to the shores of Santa Monica in order for their father to recuperate from a nervous breakdown in the warm climate of his sister’s home. Like in Ballet Shoes (a favorite of mine as a girl), the youngest and the eldest children hold the recognizable talent and looks in the family and the middle child is prickly and difficult.

The story opens with Tim, Jane, and Rachel eavesdropping on the doctor’s conversation with their mother, trying desperately to learn if their father will ever recover from the shock of accidentally killing a child who runs in front of his car. The doctor’s advice of sending him to a sunny climate for the winter holds little hope, but a letter is sent to the children’s aunt, who has lived in California for many years. A positive response from her — inviting the whole family to visit — and a surprise inheritance for their mother’s friend and the children’s nanny to fund the trip set the stage for an international adventure.

First there’s travel — on trains and an ocean liner; then there are the cultural differences. And then when they reach California, they find their aunt is unbearable, prone to taking to bed with nerves and sick headaches, and unwilling to share much beyond room and board (which the adults agree is still terribly generous of her). Plus, she seems to stand in the way — intentionally or otherwise — of what each child wants most out of the California trip: for Rachel, a chance to meet with the famed Posy Fossil and to take dance lessons; for Jane, a friendly dog to hang out with; and for Tim, a piano upon which to practice.

Luckily, what the children seem to learn in America is that generally its inhabitants are friendly and inclined to help you out. Posy tracks Rachel down, gets her an audition, and takes her under her wing; Aunt Cora’s cook, Bella, helps Tim track down a piano upon which to practice and generally counsels him to keep a positive outlook on things; and Jane encounters a sympathetic dog owner who also happens to be a director about to film The Secret Garden, but whose star suddenly became unavailable. The family’s six months in the U.S. offers up wild adventures — but will these be enough in the end to keep them on this side of the Atlantic?

[A couple notes:

  • One, I bought my copy second-hand, and all but the first page of Chapter 16 is missing.
  • Two, I believe I own this book back at my folks’ as Movie Shoes but was lured into buying it again because of the title difference. (For what it’s worth, Movie Shoes is the later, American title.) It was totally the mention of the return of the Fossil sisters that grabbed me and made me buy it.
  • Three, in looking into the title question, I have learned that this is a revised and abridged version of the book. I had been surprised by how casually they worked food parcels into the story. Had I not read/watched 84, Charing Cross Road, I certainly wouldn’t have realized how long food shortages and rationing went on in England and recognized the reference. Apparently some of the other things they cut referred to similar bits of British post-World War II restrictions.

Although the book wasn’t nearly as good as I remember it being, nor as good as Ballet Shoes remains, it was still an enjoyable read. I’d recommend it to those who an enjoy a Pollyanna-type ending to their stories.

Pages: 303 (although I missed five of them…)

Category: books. There is/are Comments Off on into the stacks: the painted garden.