Redheads at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Redheads at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was first published in 1964, but my copy is a very recent reprint by Girls Gone By.  This one is a bit of a departure from the usual Chalet School series as it’s more of a thriller than boarding school story.

It begins with Flavia and her step-father travelling on a train on the way to the Chalet School. Flavia has red hair and most people call her Copper for that reason, but her step-father explains she must use her real name at school and she has been enrolled under her original surname, instead of her step-father’s surname.

Flavia’s step-father is a policeman and one of his investigations has led to the hanging of a member of a vicious gang. The other gang members have sworn to get their own back on him, Flavia’s life is in danger, but to begin with she doesn’t know that.  The headmistress has been given all the information though.

From almost the beginning it’s obvious that there are nefarious characters hot on the track of Flavia, they know that they’re looking for a girl with red hair, but there are several such lucky girls at the school. Inevitably the wrong girl is nabbed! But of course all ends well eventually.

I enjoy these Girls Gone By reprints, there’s usually a short story at the end by a contemporary Girls Gone By writer.  In this case it’s  An Inspector Calls by Lisa Townsend. There’s also a few pages about the publishing history, notes on the text, and at the very beginning there’s a bit by Ruth Jolly about the apparently fairly regular appearance of girls with red hair attending The Chalet School,  there are more of them than would be expected in society. She also mentions other characters with red hair in literature, and that old chestnut that redheads are supposed to have a fiery temper, which of course had me rolling my eyes as a redhead myself, or as my mother described me – a strawberry blonde.

I almost feel a blogpost coming on about walking in a person’s shoes, because unless you have red hair you have no idea what it’s like! It is the only prejudice which is quite happily allowed nowadays, and features in TV adverts, where derogatory comments about skin colour definitely aren’t tolerated.


End of Term by Antonia Forest

End of Term by Antonia Forest was first published in 1959, but my copy is a re-print by Girls Gone By. This is the first book in the series that I’ve read and I must say that it would have been better if I had begun the series at the beginning and worked my way through them in order, but I enjoyed it anyway.

This is the fourth book in a ten book series which features the Marlowe family among others, and it begins at a railway station where the Marlowe girls are waiting for the train to take them to their boarding school. It’s the Christmas term so there’s a nativity play to look forward to and of course netball games, who will get into the team, who will be captain, who will have a decent part in the nativity play? There are lots of expectations and lots of disappointments, which the girls attempt to rectify.

It’s unusual for a 1950s book for children in that it features the divorce of a girl’s parents and how it is affecting her. There are teachers who are less than fair to their pupils and have bad judgement, and are being duped by a girl that they should have realised was less than honest.

But the most important aspect for me was the subject of religious factions, something which was usually avoided in this genre apparently, but with the Church of England, Roman Catholic and Jewish pupils within the school the casting for the nativity play parts was an opportunity for the author to show how things should be done, with no anti-semitism involved.

There was one part of the book which did rather annoy me. The eldest sister of one of the pupils comes back to visit the school and her sisters. She had been in the sixth form the previous year and she had driven herself to the school. She’s just taking driving lessons but has put on some make-up in an attempt to make herself look older so that she won’t be stopped by the police. Presumably the girl’s personality had been a bit of a rebellious one when she was at the school, but there was no comeuppance and there should have been. That’s me being po-faced I suppose but I dislike people who think the rules don’t apply to them!

Evelyn Finds Herself by Josephine Elder

Evelyn Finds Herself by Josephine Elder was first published in 1929 but my copy is a modern paperback which has been reprinted by Girls Gone By, actually although it’s a paperback (I prefer hardbacks) it’s still a lovely book and there are 46 pages of very interesting information at the beginning. There’s some history of education in England and Scotland which had/have very different systems. Scotland’s system was way ahead of the English one which only really got into gear for ordinary children in the 1930s. It was the 1920s before commissions recommended that secondary education should be available free to all children in England. In contrast in Scotland education was sponsored by the state from the 18th century. There are also some interesting photographs of the original book covers, and some old schools and teachers.

Unusually this book is set in an ordinary girls’ secondary day school rather than a boarding school so the reader sees the girls at home as they visit each other to do homework together and also as they enjoy each other’s company outside school and socialise with their families.

Evelyn’s best friend is Elizabeth but when they meet up at school after the summer holidays they haven’t seen each other for eight weeks. It’s evident from the beginning that although they’re great friends they’re quite different characters. Elizabeth is always thinking ahead, such as planning to get what she thinks will be the most interesting seat locations in their new classrooms. Evelyn is altogether more serious about her studies.

When Elizabeth seems to be more interested in being friends with another girl Evelyn is surprised, she can’t see the attraction and the girls grow apart somewhat. There’s no animosity, just a coolness but Evelyn is hurt. It’s all character forming though, and all so familiar to anyone looking back on their own schooldays. I particularly enjoyed the way the girls were disdainful of the ‘Home Life’ department and the girls who were too stupid to do anything else – it felt so true to life. I just remember being astonished that anyone would need lessons on such things as washing clothes! I had been doing all the housework in my family home since I was ten years old.

This book is so well written and observed with the teachers also coming across as human beings with a life outside their workplace. This is a really enjoyable read so I’ll definitely be looking for more books by the author.