Sunday, October 27, 2013

Susan's Helping Hand (spine)

The spine of the Children's Press edition of Susan's Helping Hand. The illustration shows an unusually pensive Susan examining the Folding Letter. During my recent visit to the Crail Book Sale in Scotland, I came across two Children's Press editions: Susan's Helping Hand and Susan Interferes. I now have four of the five books published with laminated boards, the only one missing being Susan Pulls the Strings. The laminated edition of Susan's Helping Hand was published in 1968 and Susan Interferes a year later. This is interesting because despite the fact that the books were clearly enjoying a second wind in these more inexpensive, mass market editions, the new books published by Collins in the late 1960s were not very enthusiastically marketed.

Susan's Helping Hand has one of the the most tightly packed plots in the series. In addition to the theft of the Folding Letter and the other antics of the Mad Collector, we also have the mysterious Belle and her two young siblings and their possible relationship with Mrs. Forester, plus the adventures that take place on Cousin Barbara's farm. There are nice little sub plots laced throughout the story as well. The policeman, Mr. Bristow would like to solve the crime wave and outdo the "la-di-da" Sergeant Botting. And of course there is a great deal of comedy with Susan and Bill's efforts to drum up a little extra business for Miss Frame's shop by diverting the traffic on the bank holiday. The huge traffic jam and all the chaos that ensues are hilarious. Susan's fascination with the Kent countryside and its contrast to her drab native Glasgow are also delightful features of the story. And we can't forget Bill's enthusiasm when it comes to learning how a farm operates.

The book ends on a strong note too. The identity of the master criminal, the Mad Collector, is a great surprise to the reader. And I can't recall any other Jane Shaw story in which characters begin in such miserable conditions and end up so happy, as occurs with Belle, Robert and Mary. This is one of Jane Shaw's strongest stories.