The first time I can remember Noel Streatfeild was when my mother read Ballet Shoes (the copy second from the right in the third row of the picture) to my brother and I when I must have been about seven and he five. I was terrified but my brother quite liked it. However, very soon after that I started my obsession with her books.
In one of my old note books, in-amongst cast lists from plays I’ve been in and complicated charts for imaginary riding stables, I have a list of names to call my future children. They are all girls and mostly very long, most notably Sakalendukiranaisanagunadharmalakshmidharavijayottunggudevi Amily Estella, the former being the name of an ancient princess. The one that is relevant to this blog is Petrova Laura Myra Sorrel Arrietty Sara Gemma Violet-Elizabeth Andrina. This was after all my favourite book characters at the time and four of them are Noel Streatfeild characters. Petrova is from Ballet Shoes, Myra is from Apple Bough, Sorrel is form Curtain Up and Gemma is from the four books about Gemma.
As you can probably see, my collection is very well read and now when I read The Painted Garden or The Circus is Coming (two of my favourites) I have to literally take out each page, read it, then add it back to the book. My most recent Noel Streatfield find was in a second hand bookshop in Suffolk where I found a book called The Years of Grace (not in the photo), edited by Noel Streatfeild. It is a 1950s guide to growing up and includes fantastic advice on working as an air stewardess on the flight to America where you stop at Greenland halfway and that every girl should own a grey flannel skirt.
Although her most famous books are about children on the stage some of my favourite books are nostalgic story of family life. Apple Bough about a family traveling around the world after their violin playing brother and The Growing Summer about three children going to Ireland for the summer holiday. Similar characters do crop up in all the books: the plump dependable woman and the useless mothers. Reading Noel Streatfeilds first autobiography A Vicarage Family you can identify all the characters in her own life.
Noel Streatfeild has taught me lots of things. Some are not very helpful such as field is spelt field and to register adoptions you have to go to Somerset House. However I lived my stage and ballet ambitions through them which was probably a lot more enjoyable than actually spending hours in a studio practicing plies.