For the first time in living memory, this year Father Christmas did not get my note and none of the books I asked for turned up under the tree. This is not a complaint – with the arrival of our little Astronaut, it was a very different kind of Christmas. However, an entirely bookless festive period felt a little off and so I decided I deserved one item from my list. It was not so very difficult about which to pick – the news that a previously unreleased collection of Noel Streatfeild stories were hitting the shelves had made the little girl in me dance with glee. Featuring nine short stories, Noel Streatfeild’s Christmas Stories is a treat for fans both old and new.Aside from ‘The Bells Keep Twelfth Night’, which featured The Bell Family, the stories were unrelated to Streatfeild’s other books. Each was fairly short, making for excellent bedtime reading even for the exhausted new parent. Years ago, I borrowed an old Girl’s Own annual from a friend of my grandmother and the stories in Christmas Stories reminded me a lot of the kind of thing one found in there. Further delving revealed that most of the material did indeed first see the light in that kind of format, either in children’s annuals, magazines and newspapers or on the radio. Ranging in publication date from the 1940s to 1960s, the book does have the slight feeling of an antique – this is a kind of publishing market which has more or less vanished.
Despite the form being radically different to her usual material, Streatfeild’s distinctive voice still shines through. The word ‘gorgeous’ still turns up far more than it strictly needs to and ‘sweetly pretty’ makes its usual appearance too. Yet more than that, there is the theatrical sparkle which so bewitched me the first time that I picked up Ballet Shoes aged seven years old. Almost every story features a character managing to get on stage somehow or other. Streatfeild always seemed to understand that even the shyest and least dramatically-inclined child would enjoy daydreaming about having a chance in the limelight and these stories are no exception.
That being said, there were some chapters that I preferred to others; having read The Bell Family, I was not overjoyed to encounter them again and Miss Virginia Bell had not improved with keeping. Still, I loved ‘The Moss Rose’ and ‘Thimble’, plus I adored the literature fantasy unleashed in ‘The Chain’. Some stories were reminiscent of Streatfeild’s longer stories, with ‘Christmas at Collers’ having a similar moral to The Growing Summer but then others were markedly different, with ‘The Princess’ far more of an overt fairytale than anything I had ever read by Streatfeild before. The whole book felt like an escapist treat, the bookish equivalent of a heavily iced cupcake. Even the front cover is beautiful, and I speak as someone who tries not to judge the book by the cover art. To use a word that Streatfeild would have approved of, Christmas Stories is simply ‘gorgeous’.
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Published by Hachette UK on November 1st 2018
Genres: Fiction, General, Young Adult, Classics, Holidays & Celebrations, Christmas & Advent, Performing Arts, Dance, Short Stories
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