Monday 28 September 2020

Thursday's Child by Noel Streatfeild

Thursday’s Child was the first book I wore out. My original copy was a paperback with a photo from a TV series I never saw. I read it until the spine cracked and the pages came out in chunks and then I carried on reading it until it was a collection of small sections and individual pages that had to be handled with extreme caution. 

I suppose that the larger child here is Margaret who was dressed up as a boy to work on the canal boat, but if you picked up the book unknowing, you'd read the image as two boys. Seems an odd choice for the cover to me.

When my paperback Thursday's Child was finally impossible to read, my mother bought me a hardback copy, the very first hardback I had ever owned apart from a handful of Beatrix Potters. So now I had not only a book I adored for its story, but the first book I fell in love with as an object. Imagine the thrill of owning such a treasure! 

Look how much I loved this book - I covered the dust jacket with stickyback plastic when it started to disintegrate. And stop to appreciate the image of Margaret drawn by Peggy Fortnum who's responsible for the original Paddington Bear illustrations.

A number of books have held top spot for me over the years, but Thursday's Child probably held it for longest and has never been out of my personal top ten. What is it about this particular story? I think, for me, it’s the epitome of what I think of when I think ‘children’s books’. Feisty hero, no parents, thrown into situations where she has to fend for herself, protect others, form a team, while preserving her own identity with determination. Though most of my favourites have elements of fantasy or magic in them, historical novels like this tick the world-building boxes that suit me. And honestly, the things that Noel Streatfeild throws at Margaret Thursday barely give the reader pause for breath: an orphan with a mysterious background, a cruel orphanage, an escape to a canal boat, joining a travelling theatre, the discovery of long-lost aristocrats. And as the author speeds her characters through triumph and disaster, she takes the time to give even the minor players and the baddies real depth. 

I have loved almost every Noel Streatfeild book I’ve ever read – I can even forgive her for the much inferior sequel to this book because of course you have to write a book called Far to Go if you’ve written one called Thursday’s Child. I have a soft spot for Ballet Shoes and my copies of the Gemma stories show evidence of much rereading, but for me, if you could only read one of her books Thursday’s Child should be the one. 

This post is part of a collection of seven about children's books that I love. You can see the original post here, with links to all the books I've written about.

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