The Runaway Summer by Nina Bawden – 20 Books of Summer

The Runaway Summer by Nina Bawden was first published in 1969 and it’s one of my 20 Books of Summer. The book is/was aimed at older children.

Mary’s parents are getting divorced and during the school holidays she has been sent to live with her Aunt Alice and grandfather who live on the coast, while everything is sorted out. Mary is premanently angry about the whole situation, she has no friends in the area and she knows that she’s behaving very badly towards Aunt Alice and Grandfather, but annoyingly they are very understanding, which only makes Mary feel worse!

In a fit of rage Mary runs out of the house and heads for the sea front where she gets into more trouble as she’s so angry she decides to steal some sweets, but her shoplifting has been seen by young twin sisters who have run away from their older brother Simon. He’s the eldest of a large chaotic family and their father is a policeman!

On one of her trips to the beach Mary watches a small boat coming towards it, when it reaches the shingle two dark men jump out and help a young boy out too. It all seems strange, none of them are dressed for a trip in a boat and they have suitcases, when they get on the beach the boatman sails off again. The young boy has a damaged arm and as the men make their way along the beach, he’s left behind and Mary can see that he’s crying.

But in no time the men are picked up by the police, and Mary decides that she must help the young boy and hide him from the authorities, but she’ll need help from Simon.

As you would expect fromm Nina Bawden this is a really well-written book, but I found myself checking the details about when it was first published and I must say that I find it fairly depressing that she was writing about illegal immigrants in small boats – and it’s still a huge problem and very much in the news 55 years later.

It turns out that Krishna had been flying from Kenya to London to stay with his uncle, but there was a deadline to do it legally and due to plane delays he had missed it, and so began all his troubles.

My  20 Books of Summer list is here. This is the sixth book that I’ve read on the list.




Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease – 20 Books of Summer 2023

Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease was first published in 1940 but my copy is a Puffin reprint which was published in 1965.

This book begins in Cumberland where there are a lot of skirmishes around the Scotland/England border, but it’s the local landowner Sir Philip who is causing the villagers big problems as he’s enclosing the land which had been used by the villagers for grazing their cattle on. The land grab has huge consequences for the locals who are already living a hand to mouth existence. They decide to break down Sir Philip’s wall  but Sir Philip and his men are about and Peter Brownrigg can’t resist the temptation to throw a stone at him, unfortunately he’s spotted doing it and a gun is fired at him, narrowly missing Peter’s head. The next day Sir Philip’s men come looking for Peter and he has to run away, if he’s caught he could be hanged!

London is the place to aim for and he falls in with another runaway lad on the way. They decide to stick together and look for work. They get taken on as apprentice actors in a travelling theatre group.  Of course it turns out to be William Shakespeare’s  company and the youngsters get involved in a dangerous intrigue involving the politics of  Elizabeth’s court.

This is the second book I’ve read recently which involves William Shakespeare and his company of players, even so this was a really good read.

Little Plum by Rumer Godden

Little Plum cover

Little Plum by Rumer Godden was first published in 1963 but my copy is a 1975 reprint by Puffin books.

This is a lovely relaxing read, especially if you want to get away from the depressing TV news.

At just 135 pages long and aimed at readers aged seven and over (I’m very much over!!) the story features two Japanese dolls called Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. The dolls had been sent by Great-Aunt Lucy as a Christmas present to Nona who had lived in India until recently when she had been sent to live with her Fell cousins and their parents in England. The dolls had helped Nona settle into her new life, where she shared a bedroom with her cousin Belinda.

They were fascinated by the very large house next door which has been very grand but it had been empty and for sale for years so looks neglected and dirty. When a sold sign appears and builders arrive to renovate the house they’re agog.

Belinda is particularly fascinated by Gem, a girl about her own age. Gem is very different, mainy because she is being looked after by her very strict aunt while her mother is in hospital. Gem doesn’t know how to play – unless it’s her piano. When Belinda spies another Japanese doll in Gem’s bedroom she’s outraged that Gem doesn’t play with the doll or look after her. Belinda begins a campaign against Gem, really trying to get her attention. This involves mad escapades from Belinda which put her in real danger, not that at her age she really recognises that. She’s quite a wee girl!

The book is illustrated by Jean Primrose, just pencil drawings but they’re charming.

Stormsearch by Robert Westall

Stormsearch by Robert Westall was first published in 1990, my copy is a Puffin book. Previously I had only read The Machine-Gunners by this author. Stormsearch wasn’t quite as good, in my opinion anyway.

Tim and his sister are staying with their aunt and uncle in Cornwall over the school holidays. They live close to a beach so Tim and Tracey have a sandcastle building competition, during the digging they strike something hard. At first they thought it might be an old mine from the war, then maybe an old barrel, but it turns out to be a very old model of a sailing ship, in reasonable condition although the sails have rotted away.

Uncle Geoff is thrilled to bits with it and he sets about finding out more about it, he knows that he should be able to track down information on it – and who it belonged to originally.

The blurb at the back says:

A compelling story of obsessions, family hatred and adventure, which it is, and it’s entertaining holiday time reading for not too young readers.

Horned Helmet by Henry Treece

Horned Helmet by Henry Treece was first published in 1963.

This is the story of Beorn (Bjorn) a young Icelandic boy who has had a rough time as his mother has been kidnapped by Viking raiders and enslaved, and then his father jumped into the sea rather than face a fight with Glam whose barn he had burned down. The upshot of his suicide is that Beorn now belongs to Glam, but Beorn decides he would rather do anything than be Glam’s slave. He manages to escape and is taken on board a Jomsviking ship when he befriends Starkad. The Jomsvikings are a notorious band of mercenaries and at times Beorn regrets getting on board, the ship isn’t in the best of condition and it looks like they’ll all drown.

This one is written in the style of a Viking saga, so it seems a bit stilted to modern ears, or eyes at times, but I enjoyed the adventure anyway.

Legions of the Eagle by Henry Treece – the 1954 Club

Legions of the Eagle by Henry Treece was aimed at young teenagers, but it can probably be enjoyed by people of all ages who have an interest in a Roman Britain setting. If you enjoy Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Roman books you’ll probably like this one too, I would say she’s the better writer though, and I’m not at all sure about all of the historical ‘facts’ although apparently an elephant was employed in the Roman invasion of Britain – which was news to me!

The book is written in three parts and the first part begins in AD 43 with Gwydion who is the thirteen year old son of Lord Caswallawn who rides at the right hand of King Caratacus, of the Belgae tribe. Gwydion’s best friend is Math who is a slave and is very much aware of his status in life although Gwydion doesn’t seem to understand how that makes Math feel at times. But it isn’t long before Gwydion is himself taken prisoner by the invading Romans and becomes a slave himself, sent to Rome to be the companion of a high ranking Roman’s son. Math managed to escape the Romans, so their situations are completely reversed.

The moral of the tale is I suppose that it doesn’t matter which tribe you belong to, what you look like or what your status is in life. The important things are family, loyalty and friendship.

I think this will be the last book that I read for the 1954 Club. It’s just typical that for almost the entire week I haven’t even been online as we were down in the north-east of England – visiting Roman camps!

Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild

Curtain Up cover

Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild was first published way back in 1944. The island of Guernsey had been home for the three Forbes children Sorrel, Mark and Holly. Their father had retired from the Navy when their mother had died, but when war was declared their father had immediately re-joined the Navy and the children moved into their eccentric grandfather’s home. He is a clergyman who is far more interested in writing a book about the animals that appear in the bible than he is about the existence of his grandchildren.

When a telegram arrives saying that their father was ‘missing’ they live in hope that he has been taken prisoner and hasn’t drowned. But then grandfather dies and the children are sent to live in London with their mother’s family who are strangers to them. They’re devastated to be leaving their schools, the one stable thing in their lives.

Things get even worse when they discover that their mother had been part of a large family of well-known actors and actresses, and it’s assumed that the children will go to an acting/dancing school. The children had no idea that their mother had been from an entertainments background and they’re not exactly thrilled by the idea.

This was quite an entertaining read which follows the main rule of children’s books – get rid of those annoying parents as quickly as possible. I can imagine that many of the original 1944 child readers would have been enthralled by the storyline which has the children eventually auditioning for BBC radio.

As you would expect – all’s well that ends well.

Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff

Bonnie Dundee cover

Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff was first published in 1983 and it’s a Puffin book. Previously I’ve enjoyed quite a few of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books for adults and I found this one to be well written and informative, very early on in the book I learned that a lorimer was a maker of spurs and horse accoutrements. I had just thought of lorimer as being a surname.

Young Hugh Herriott is an orphan and is living in the Highlands with his mother’s family. His mother had more or less been cast off by her family as she had married a travelling artist against their wishes. Hugh’s grandfather had taken him back into the family but Hugh was very much an outsider, just tolerated by the rest of his relatives. It is a turbulent time in Scotland (when isn’t it?) and religious zealots in the shape of Covenanters are being hunted down by government soldiers. A close encounter with some redcoats makes Hugh realise that he’s happier on the side of the redcoats than with his Covenanting family. If you thought that ‘redcoats’ were always English think again, there were plenty of Lowland Scots in that army.

In truth it’s seeing Claverhouse (Viscount Dundee) that pushes Hugh to leave his family and eventually he finds himself as part of Claverhouse’s household which leads him to follow him into battle. Things had come to a head when the Catholic King James succeeded to the throne on his brother Charles’s death. When James’s wife gives birth to a son the Protestants at court are determined to bring William of Orange over from Holland to push James out, William’s wife is a Stewart and of course they are Protestants. Some deluded people are still fighting this religious mess – it’s what has caused all the trouble in Ireland.

So begins the Jacobite cause with James eventually legging it to France after Claverhouse or Bonnie Dundee as he was nicknamed pays the ultimate price. If you want to learn a bit of Scottish history painlessly then this is an ideal read, a bit of an adventure tale woven into historical fact, and very atmospheric.

I’m fairly sure that Sutcliff’s mother must have been Scottish as she’s very good at writing Scots dialect, and her mother’s name was apparently Nessie – another clue I think. Rosemary Sutcliff spent most of her life in a wheelchair which makes her ability to write such great descriptive scenes all the more impressive as her own experiences must have been sadly narrow, especially as she lived at a time when access for disabled people was not great.

This is one of those books that you continue to read, knowing what the outcome must be – but daftly hoping for a better one.

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden

The Peppermint Pig cover

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden was first published in 1975 and it’s one of the Puffin books that I bought fairly recently. It won the Guardian Award for children’s fiction. This book isn’t for the faint hearted as at the very beginning there’s a description of how Granny Greengrass had her finger accidentally cut off by the butcher. Then it’s mentioned that puppies used to have their tails ‘docked’ by having them bitten off by the groom at the Manor House.

The father of the Greengrass family is got rid of very quickly as after an incident at his work he decides that he should travel to America where his brother lives, in the hope of forging a new life for his family – eventually. The children and their mother end up having to leave their home in London and travelling to rural Norfolk to live with aunts until the time comes for them to leave for America. Life there is very different from London, they end up having a pet piglet, the runt of a litter which was offered for sale to their mother for a shilling.

In no time the piglet is house-trained, he’s clever and naughty and great fun, the children love their peppermint pig which is apparently what the runt of a litter is called. The piglet grows quickly, as the children were so fond of it I really thought that this was going to have a happy ending – but I was wrong!

The blurb on the back says: A charming and perceptive story by the author of Carrie’s War.

I imagine that it probably turned a fair few children into vegetarians – for a while anyway!

Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton

Bedknob and Broomstick cover

Until I picked this book up in an Aberdeenshire secondhand bookshop recently I had no idea that Bedknob and Broomstick had been written by Mary Norton (of The Borrowers fame). It was first published in 1945 and although I’ve only seen short excerpts of the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I think it’s fair to say that it must be very loosely based on the book. It was obviously written in wartime although it doesn’t really come into the story, the three children Carey, Charles and Paul have been sent to live with an old aunt who lives in Bedfordshire. This must have been a normal experience for many children in those days as fathers were off in the services and their mothers were also doing war work. It fits the perfect children’s book scenario, get rid of those annoying parents.

The house is old and square with a large hall and the children are quite intimidated by it. They’re also rather shy of their aunt and the old housemaid, but the garden is wonderful and even has a river running through it. The children have a whale of a time, they’re well behaved and all their days are alike – until they meet Miss Price. She’s an elderly lady who gets about on her bicycle, she’s very ladylike and teaches piano for a living, but in her spare time she’s a bit of a white witch. She’s really just a beginner at it and when the children find her in pain lying on the ground in local woodland it transpires that she has sprained her ankle as she has fallen off her broomstick!

She obviously needs more practice. Miss Price needs the children to keep quiet about her witchcraft, the locals wouldn’t understand, so she puts a spell on Paul’s bedknob so that when he twists it the bed will wheech them all anywhere in the world – or even into the past.

This book is aimed at children over the age of eight – I think I fit that description!