Saturday, 21 March 2020

The Growing Summer


I am in bed not feeling very well with a sore throat and am v tired, so this will be a short post!

'The Growing Summer' by Noel Streatfeild is a book I somehow always turn to when I am ill.

I have read and re-read it so often, from childhood to adulthood,  as I love this story of four English children being sent to stay with their Great -Aunt Dymphna in Ireland,  yet it was only on this reading where I noticed something very interesting. To put it in context, the children, Alex, Penny, Robin and Naomi are being spoken to by their father, a scientist.

'Now, I'll make this as simple as possible. You all know roughly about my work. Well, for quite a time now I've been trying to isolate a microbe, which is a killer once it gets going.'

     'It's what starts a type of epidemic, isn't it?' Alex asked.

      'That's what I believe but so far it's only theoretical. We have had no outbreak of this type in this country for centuries but there are outbreaks in other countries, notably in the Far East.'

     In a flash of understanding Penny knew what was coming.

    'So you want to go to the Far East?'
    Her father looked at her gratefully.

   'That's hit the nail on the head....'    p 21 (Chapter 2 'The News') 1966

The children's father goes off to do very important scientific research to isolate the microbe causing an epidemic, but then he gets very ill himself. Their mother has to rush off across the world to be with him, and the worried children are sent off, missing the end of their school term,  to live in Cork with their Great Aunt Dymphna.

I am so grateful to all the scientists in 2020 who are trying to find a cure for our pandemic of Covid19. I am so grateful to the NHS workers in our nation who are looking after very ill people and putting themselves at risk, and the shop workers and the cleaners and the delivery drivers and the carers who are keeping this nation going.

Many children, like Alex, Penny, Robin and Naomi, are suddenly finding themselves out of school.  They will not be sent off to live with Great-Aunts, but many of them will have parents involved in the NHS or other vital work, and will be still at school, whilst others will be at home. Many children are very worried. As writers, most of us cannot help with the scientific research or the nursing, but we can still be of some help.

I have sent a message to my local Head teacher to offer my services for any Creative writing work outreach. I am trying to think about ways, once I feel a bit better, to help those children in my village and surrounding ones, who have to social -distance but need to get out and be stimulated. Unfortunately they can't have self-reliant  adventures like Alex and Penny and Robin and Naomi, but they still do need to get out in the fresh air and away from screens. I was thinking about getting coloured chalks and doing little pictures or story prompts around the village which could be enjoyed whilst social distancing. I would like to do things for children who are ill, or who are in self-isolation. I am also thinking of trying to see if there is a way that children off school, and older or at-risk members of the village self -isolating, can produce creative things together. Could we do a physical newsletter, a compilation of good news stories which could be distributed to people who aren't used to reading online and are feeling overwhelmed  ? I don't know how to do this by myself, but maybe a group of us could get together. We could have a village joke book, cartoons, history, shared photographs, poems, stories, illustrations...

I am very aware I haven't done much on my website, and once I feel better I will try to do more, but I know already that many authors with wonderful videos and websites are going to be offering resources nationally to children, and already people are reading out on YouTube, and publishers are sharing resources to try to help. I love, for example, Alex T Smith's story prompts on Twitter. I'd love to do some myself.

The lovely thing about 'The Growing Summer' is that somehow, the children get through it. The book doesn't underplay  how scary it is for them, and how hard it is to know that their father is ill, and how much they miss their mother. They get cross, and bored, and argue, and make mistakes,  but in the end they get through, and even grow, through the summer, and Great Aunt Dymphna, who wasn't expecting her role, rises to the occasion too. Maybe we can all channel our respective  inner Great- Aunt Dymphnas and rise to the occasion in our own ways - maybe this hard time can, in some way, be a Growing Summer for us as well.

I wish all of us and our friends and families, strength and blessing and protection in this unique  time.


Joan Lennon said...

Love Noel Streatfeild (in spite of her so-easy-to-spell-wrong name - so I copied and pasted from your post) but haven't read The Growing Summer - many thanks for the recommendation!

Paul May said...

And there was me just watching President Trump saying that nobody ever thought that such a thing could happen, nobody had any idea. But then, I believe he doesn't read a lot.

Anne Booth said...

Thank you, Joan. It is a wonderful book, and the link with an epidemic makes it surprisingly relevant in these strange times.

Anne Booth said...

Yes, Paul, a good point! This was written in 1966 too!

Penny Dolan said...

Hope you feel better and stronger soon, Ann.

Anne Booth said...

Thank you very much, Penny.