Sunday, September 19, 2010

30 Day Book Meme - Day 04

Day 04 - Your favorite book or series ever

This is easy...The Chalet School Series by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. I own more than half the 60-odd books in the series and when I need a true comfort read, I pull one out. For those of you not familiar with it, this set of school stories was written by Ms. Brent-Dyer (herself a school teacher/headmistress) from the 20s through to the 60s. The story starts with Madge Bettany deciding to open a school in Austria as a means of supporting herself and her fragile 12 year old sister, Jo. Though she has only 6 pupils to start, the school very quickly meets with great success as parents from around Europe and beyond hear of it. The books are typical of the school story type - prefects, mischievous middle school students, midnight feasts and plenty of antics. Its location is one of the charms - what 10 year old girl doesn't love to read about tramps through fresh snow, hiking up into the alps and camping in shady woods in a foreign country. But it's Brent-Dyer's characters that really charm. Jo is a headstrong tomboy who blossoms once she moves to a climate more suited to her health. Also a typical school-story heroine, she saves many of her friends from unlikely but fascinating situations, leads her group of friends and even after graduation, remains the heart of the school. As a child I dreamed of being able to go to a school like this.

The series moves location several times as the school is forced from Europe at the beginning of WWII (The Chalet School in Exile), initially to Guernsey, then Wales and Switzerland and many of the original characters reappear, either as teachers or parents of later students. Occasionally Brent-Dyer loses track of some and names occasionally change - most famously that of Madge's partner and successor as Head Mistress, Mademoiselle Lepattre, whose first name changes, IIRC, from Thérèse to Elise - but these slight inconsistencies are all part of the series' charm and appeal.

Parents of girls today might want to check out a couple of the books before recommending them, simply because they do contain references to religion and some moralizing does occur. They are not inspirational, in that religion is not the focus, but as was current at the time they were set, the majority of the girls and their teachers belonged to and were active in either the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church. Many girls today might simply find them boring compared to the vampires and wizards they read about today.

All that said, many who grew up reading them in years gone by are still huge fans, as is evidenced by the existence of at least two international organizations devoted to this series of books - Friends of the Chalet School and The New Chalet Club.

What about you? Are you a Chalet School fan? Have you read other school series you liked?
Currently Reading: Shadow Baby by Margaret Forster

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