Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page.
Barbie by Kitty Barnepublished 1952
[12 year old Barbie, brought up in Austria, has come to live with her English relations]
Christmas came; and Christmas is rather a time for feeling homesick. But Barbie seemed pretty happy. We don’t go to a lot of parties, but we took her along to the ones we had and she enjoyed them, particularly the games, when she was not too good but madly keen. She helped us with the church things we always do, the Crib with the little wooden figures and animals someone brought us from Babaria, and the small-sized tree we always have in the children’s corner; also the big tree and party for the choir and Sunday School.
She liked decorating that with the shiny balls and stars and candles and she was very pleased with the red-spotted toadstools that she was sure came from Vienna. Father said: ‘Keep her busy,’ so we did and she seemed to like it. ‘I’ve always wanted to be in an English Christmas,’ she said, ‘and now I am. Right in.’
commentary: I really enjoyed two other books by Kitty Barne last year, She Shall Have Music and While the Music Lasted. Her works are very much of their time, and deal with the growing pains and difficulties of young musicians. In this one, Barbie is something of a musical prodigy, and her English cousins find her somewhat disconcerting. She is a fine violinist, but also very talented on the piano.
Nothing too terrible happens in Barne’s books – they are quite refreshing in that the children have difficulties and strangenesses to face, but they aren’t made miserable in that dramatic way so many authors like [see: Elfrida Vipont]. They learn to deal with their problems, and on the whole other people are good-hearted. There are always older mentor/teacher figures – who are not unreliable exactly, but more like another child than an all-powerful adult. There are auditions and the search for an agent, for some concert date that will help. There are funny passing comments on contraltos (‘poor souls’) and a comparison between training musicians and training horses: ‘that’s technique- you’ve got to have it. It’s all in the training.’
The truth is, there isn’t a talented child/stage school book written that I wouldn’t enjoy – probably because I never had the slightest talent or interest in real life. (It’s a bit like my great love for Swallows and Amazons, when I would’ve run a mile from a sailing and camping holiday in real life). It’s a slight and charming book – and I loved every magic moment.
The picture shows children saying Grace before a Xmas party in 1952 – the children in the book are a Vicarage family.