Cherry Tree Perch by Josephine Elder

Cherry Tree Perch by Josephine Elder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Cherry Tree Perch is the second in a series and sometimes it feels it: you are launched into the premise with very little preamble and asked to simply catch up. It works, for the most, but there are quite a few moments where new readers (such as myself!) will struggle to figure out quite what is happening. Once you’ve worked out what’s happening and who’s who and what’s actually going on, you’re presented with a very interesting and rather charming novel that is a little bit Antonia Forest at its best and a little bit Enid Blyton “shut up, I’ve got to get this done by lunch” at its worst.

The premise is a farm school where the children learn animal husbandry and all of the practical skills that running a farm involves. Upon first reading, this focus on real world skill felt very post-war to me and I was so interested to realise that this was published in 1939. That’s not to say that books like this did not exist at the time but rather to say that they weren’t all doing this sort of thing. Elder positions the children here as the future (that should be a song, right?) but also as the makers of that future. There’s interesting.

What’s also interesting here is how the adults are understood as being a little bit messy. That’s not a description that can be applied to all of the adults, because this is still children’s literature of a certain period and time and there are certain politics that it needs to accord to, but there are adults here who don’t quite know everything. And everybody knows that they don’t need everything. That’s also interesting.

One of the girls develops an admiration for an adult in a way that, only thirty or so years earlier than this in an Angela Brazil, would have had her swooning over every other page. But Elder doesn’t go for that. She goes for the much more interesting angle of letting her have the admiration, the pash (so to speak), and examine this through the filter of her established friendship with people of her own age. There’s some strong character work here and this book is so good and indeed, rather spectacular, when it just allows two young children to talk about friendship.

It’s important to note that there are certain elements here, such as the treatment of the disabled elder brother Kenneth and the way people refer to him, that read very poorly now. Please bear this in mind prior to reading.

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