The Bell Family by Noel Streatfeild

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I read most of Noel Streatfeild’s children’s books when I was the right age for them, and I was very keen on the Gemma books and quite keen on most of the others, but I somehow missed this one.  It isn’t bad, but I have to say that I don’t think it’s one of her best.  Not very much actually happens: there’s no excitement over concerts or skating galas or film shoots, and you don’t even get to see the ballet auditions for which two of the four children go.

It’s also rather annoying.  It’s very hard to sympathise with characters who bleat about how they’re so terribly, terribly poor that they’ve got no chance of going to one of the most exclusive ballet schools in the world unless their parents cash in a life insurance policy.  I know that everything’s relative, and that pointing out to the kids that they weren’t poor at all would probably have had about as much effect as our primary school dinner ladies telling us to stop moaning about the vile school dinners and remember that there was a famine in Ethiopia did, but it’s still annoying!   To be fair, the author did acknowledge this, showing parishioners being shocked that the vicar’s children were busking to raise money for a holiday for themselves, but even so.

And was it really necessary to say that the nouveaux riche grandad from Bradford pronounced ballet as “ball-ett”, because obviously someone who worked in a wool mill in northern England wouldn’t know even the most basic of basics about highbrow culture?  Gah!!

There’s also a Streatfeild bingo feeling.  Someone says “sweetly pretty”.  Someone refers to herself as “Miss First Name Surname”.  Someone is obsessed with ballet.  There’s a rich auntie/uncle.  But, to be fair to Streatfeild, you can say that about most authors!

Having said all that, it was OK, as a story about children with different personalities growing up in post-war London, and maybe I’d have enjoyed it a lot more if I’d read it 40 years ago.  But, compared with Ballet Shoes or the Gemma books, it’s not one of Streatfeild’s better efforts.

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