I was nudged into (re)reading these books by various mentions of them elsewhere. I began with Kitty Barne’s She shall have Music, first published in 1938 and illustrated by Ruth Jervis. I’d read it as a child and this is what I remembered: a girl wants to play the piano but can only practise on an old piano in a church hall; a woman called Rosalba offers to give her proper lessons; she’s entered for a music festival and the judge awards her no marks because of the terrible style she’s copied from Rosalba.
I loved it when I borrowed it from the library all those years ago but time has not been kind to this book. From the start, it seemed so like a Noel Streatfeild story (they were related by marriage and discussed their work). Much as I love Ballet Shoes and always will, I’m not an admirer of Streatfeild’s style. The Forrests are a typical ‘poor’ family. Mother has to bring up four children alone (no mention of Pa). They sell their home in Ireland with its contents and move to a rented house in Bristol. Naturally, faithful Biddy leaves her beloved Ireland to come with them and do all the work. It’s a mystery what mother does, apart from a little mending. What she does not do is notice that her youngest daughter, Karen, is extremely musical. It’s left to Biddy and the charwoman at the parish hall to arrange for her to practise what she learns once a week with nice Aunt Anne. They can afford the rent of a large house in the country for the summer holidays but not piano lessons for a gifted child. Karen’s future is entirely arranged for her by the kindness of strangers and her own determination. I find it hard to believe any mother could be so apparently indifferent to what her child gets up to. Even her brother and sisters are more supportive. There is some good stuff about music in the book, but not enough.
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