Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Breton Adventure


Jane Shaw's first published book was Breton Holiday (1939). After World War II, both this work and the sequel Bernese Holiday were reissued as Adventures, the titles by which they are most familiar to readers today. I thought it was rather charming when one of the members of our Yahoo! Group, Margaret, told me that she had Bernese Holiday. Most members were surprised at the use of this title. The Adventures are slightly abridged versions of the original Holidays. This may have been due to the soaring price of paper after the war, which resulted in a crippling cost of books for the general public and particularly the libraries, a major source of income for publishers and authors in Britain. In the children's book community, there has been some debate over how to refer to this series collectively. The Susan and Penny books are named after their main protagonists. But what about this series? Some refer to the trilogy as the Caroline and Sara books, others as the Sara books, feeling that she is the main character. However, a real Jane Shaw buff who was there from day one, would tell you that the books were known as the Holiday Series: Breton Holiday (1939), Bernese Holiday (1940) and Highland Holiday (1942). The first two titles are very easy to find (as Adventures) and were mass produced, so they sell for three or four pounds on average, providing new readers with a wonderful opportunity to be introduced to the Jane Shaw universe. Highland Holiday is... well, I've never even seen a copy, except for a scan of the cover. When I first read Breton Adventure, I didn't enjoy it much. A common criticism of the book is that it has no plot. The story chronicles Caroline and Sara's visit to France with the somewhat na├»ve belief on the part of their parents that it will improve their French. But the girls are typically British and avoid speaking the language whenever possible and actually end up helping some young French people improve their English! The mystery element is left in the background, and we are given descriptions of the girls' daily routine in St. Brioc (Binic). However, after reading it again, I found the characters starting to grow on me and it became a more enjoyable read. Even so, I wouldn't go as far as some readers and say that it was the author's best work. But I am getting to like it more. Binic would be revisited over the following decades under different names by Jane Shaw's most popular characters. Susan would visit it as St. Clos and it would be known to Penny as Kerdic. The town obviously made a lasting impression on her, as it later would on most of her readers.