Christmas Term at Vernley by Margaret Biggs

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Most school stories, apart from the early ones written by Angela Brazil et al, are series, but this one’s a one-off.  Probably for that reason, it’s not particularly well-known; but it really isn’t bad at all, and it’s quite original.  There are a few real tropes in it – one of our heroines rescues someone who’s fallen through the ice (this is in the Home Counties, not Jo March’s New England or Jo Bettany’s Tyrol, but, hey, there have been winters when it’s been cold enough to skate in the Home Counties!), and the other one confuses salt with sugar – but the main plotline is something refreshingly different.

The school is divided into two houses, and one of the houses always wins everything, whilst the other one never wins anything.  It seems rather unlikely that, year on year, one house should be better at academic work, sport, and even organising firework displays on Bonfire Night …  but, as we see all too often with football teams, you do get these crises of confidence which not even a major change of personnel seems to help to solve.

In the term in question, Judy, the new house captain of the house which always loses, is determined to change things, as is her younger sister Philippa.

There are various adventures – some at the school, some at the nearby village (in which all the locals seem remarkably keen to help out the schoolgirls, even giving a “penny for the guy” when they’re ordinary working folk and the girls are from very wealthy families), some on a school trip to London and some when our two heroines go out for tea with their brother.  Then, needless to say, the losing house wins out in the end, at the last minute, and the girls from the two houses become friends rather than just seeing each other as rivals.

So there’s nothing really unexpected, but at least none of it’s unrealistic – apart from the bit where they accidentally set off a load of fireworks indoors but somehow manage not to set the place on fire – and the characters are all very believable.  And it’s rather enjoyable.

It’s quite a shame that it isn’t part of a series, although a lot of the characters would have been leaving at the end of the academic year anyway, but it’s a pretty good one-off school story.   Not an all-time classic, but a lot better than many individual books in series which are memorable.  I’ve got another two books by this author, and am looking forward to reading them.

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