An incidental treat for those addicted to Miss Read's English village tales (Celebrations at Thrush Green, 1993, etc.), those slyly gentle vignettes of neighborly to-ing and fro-ing where civility rules and the countryside is splendidly unspoiled. Here, now, is a collection of brief, affectionately humorous, schoolteacherly bits, based on the author's own short teaching career in rural hamlets in the 1920's. Most of the pieces (many published in Punch) appeared in England during the 1950's when Read's first book, Village School, led off a four-decade cavalcade of steady sellers. In an introduction, the author admits to an aim to ``entertain'' with an account of classroom follies and small village pleasures. And here, as always, her schoolmistress voice is light but firm, with self-deprecating bemusement, secure in lofty authoritarian status, missionand caste. (The children's very local wattle-and-daub diction is a source of not-too-innocent enjoyment.) In spite of the some dated formality and content, the classroom doings are appealing: One child, with ``willow wand arms,'' declares he's for home, resulting in a head-pounding gallop for teacher in pursuit of the mercurial ``horrid child''; then there are floral tributes from another student that arrive from a suspicious source; holiday rehearsals that include some bass singing (`` `It's Eric, Miss. He always honks like that' ''), as well as problems like a venerable leaking roof, a blizzard of interruptions, and a very uncertain discipline. In between are also moments of special (adult) joysas when Miss Read, consigned to offstage sleigh-bell ringing, herself sees, in the momentary eye of childhood, the imaginary ``reindeer spank ahead, heads tossing, silver plumes gushing from their scarlet nostrils into the bright air.'' Old times and timeless children. With illustrations by Kate Dicker that, like the sketches of John Goodall (who usually does the honors for Read), are stiffly naive but somehow just right.
Read full book review >