Of Cabbages and Kings: November 26, 2012

Reading about the mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland’s biggest city made me bemoan the lack of politicians with a whacky sense of humour in my own country.

I love imagining the varied histories of all the books I’ve found at secondhand stores. As much as I love turning the crisp pages of a new book, used books have a charm of their own with handwritten notes and inscriptions just adding to the overall aura.

Do you know what I love from the bottom of my heart? Cake. Another thing that has my wholehearted devotion? Books. So when you put those two together, I am coming at it with a literary themed spoon.

You know those anxiety/excitement riddled butterflies you get in your stomach right before an important event? It’s called collywobbles. Take a look at 26 other words for everyday things that you never knew existed.

What’s more fun than a serious book about serious issues (the 2012 American presidential elections) that rhymes? Its review in verse.

The daily routines of famous writers makes me feel like a lazy, lazy duck. Now I need to make myself feel better by eating copious amounts of chocolate.

Rhyme and Reason: November 24, 2012

In the Yellow dormitory Joey and Margia hurtled themselves through to Evadne and hauled her out of bed, protesting and shrieking.

… Luckily for them a good deal of licence was allowed on such a morning, and getting up was anything but the proper and demure affair it generally was. Jo, flying through the dormitory on her way to the bathroom, was soaked by a sponge hurled by Evadne, who since she was up, was determined to pay out her tormentors. Marie got tangled in her sheets when she carried them out to the balcony to air, and fell headlong into Bette’s arms, which, as the prefect was not expecting her, caused a general upset, and Miss Bettany appeared at the door to inquire if they were murdering each other.

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, The Princess of the Chalet School

Book Review: The School At The Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

When I started reading, Enid Blyton ruled the kiddy book roost. I grew up with the Famous Five and the Secret Seven and all the escapades at Mallory Towers (I discovered St. Clare’s later and the overlaps between the two series always bothered me). The latter ensured that I became a huge fan of school stories in general and I remember harassing my mother to send me to boarding school. At a time when most parents around me threatened to send away their children in a misguided attempt to correct misbehaviour, this request didn’t go down too well. So I had to content myself with endless re-readings of the same schoolyard scrapes as they were called.

I think it was a teacher who introduced me to The Chalet School series, books that nobody seems to have heard of. Which is a shame because fans of school stories are sure to fall in love with this series. The first books were written in the 1920s. They turned out to be so popular that Elinor Brent-Dyer wrote nearly 60 books in the series well into the 1960s. Ever since I read my first Chalet book (I only have vague memories of Jo of the Chalet School, the second book in the series), I’ve been determined to collect all of them. Unfortunately, I don’t think their popularity quite caught on in India so it’s a little difficult to find copies. Currently, I have 11 books, all of which I scourged at sales, street stalls and secondhand bookstores (my greatest triumph was finding one for INR 10). The ones that aren’t out of stock in online stores are imported editions and ridiculously expensive.

The School at the Chalet is the first book in the series. Set in 1925, it starts with Madge Bettany who desperately needs a source of income and hits upon the idea of starting an English school in the Austrian Tyrol (in the Eastern Alps). She’s sure the mountain air will do Joey, her twelve-year-old sister, a world of good after her altogether sickly nature leaves the older sister concerned. A small school is soon set up in a large chalet with 9 students to begin with, but the number soon swells to 17. The book follows the first term of the new school, its students of various nationalities and even a few of my favourite school-story staple, pranks! It also focuses on the Grizel Cochrane, an angsty teenager if there ever was one, who is ultimately responsible for the book’s Exciting Happening. So far, every book I’ve read in the series has at least one alarming event towards the end, most of which seem to involve Joey!

The outdated content, references and general way of life (it was written in 1925 after all) may put off a few readers but I think it adds to the book’s charm and I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it. It’s wholly entertaining and displays a quirky sense of humour. Unlike in Blyton’s books that have an outwardly antagonistic generally despised character right from the start, this book had nothing of the sort. It was all very pleasant and charming. There were interesting turns of speech from girls whose native tongue isn’t English and snatches of varied languages makes it seem all the more exotic. The school’s location made for picturesque descriptions of gorgeous scenery that made me firmly put Austria on my dream travel destinations list. The pictures in my head are beautiful enough but I longed for accompanying photographs just to make my traveller’s soul restlessly happy.

My only worry about the book is that I don’t know how much it would appeal to children today. I genuinely enjoy this sort of story and the style of writing, however old-fashioned it may be, but I have serious doubts about its appeal to kids used to action-packed, joke-filled literature.

The School At The Chalet

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Pages: 192

Price: I got my copy secondhand but Flipkart’s
version costs INR 225. Unfortunately, it’s sold out!

Publisher: Armada