They don’t make ’em like this any more…

I certainly can’t see Harriet and Cherry Pie being published today. Which doesn’t mean it’s bad, just different. In many ways, Harriet and the Cherry Pie was typical of many of the contemporary English girl’s books (and they were mostly English) I borrowed from the library when I was in primary school.
There’s a kind of formula.  12-year-old Harriet has no mother, and her father is sent to Australia for 6 months for work. That’s (1); absent parents or guardians.  So she and her little sister, Kitten, are bundled off to stay with (2) their great aunt Sophie. A friend or relative the children have never met before always adds a hint of suspense – what will she be like? Harriet assumes that her great aunt will be old and crotchety, but instead she’s young, and owns a tea-shop called The Cherry Pie in London. Which gives us (3): a very different place to home. Often it’s city children going to the country; in this case, Harriet and Kitten go from a suburban life in Bristol to the busyness of a business in central London.
There are nods to Noel Streatfeild – Harriet becomes an actress, more or less by accident and like Streatfeild, Compton takes the reader through the ins and outs of being a child performer. When I was a child, I always liked books that told you how things worked in sufficient detail for me to imagine it was me. So, Harriet has to audition repeatedly, rehearse, study her script, memorise her instructions from the director (including which chalk marks on the floor are hers!), master her nerves, learn to control her voice and so on. It’s not glamorous; it’s work. There’s a lot of waiting around.
And it’s work at the Cherry Pie, too. Again, there are all sorts of details about running a tea shop. And even some recipes!

Harriet is a clever, humble, helpful, good-tempered and generally very nice young heroine. All the adults are kind and helpful, though the thought of 12-year old Harriet being allowed to go off by herself with a variety of male theatre folk gave me a slight frisson. Little Kitten is a cutie. There’s very little suspense, no conflict and in fact, no real drama. Just a sweet, quiet, family-oriented girl’s story that ambles along until it’s finished.

And…something I love about older children’s books; they often had pictures. (I did daydream about dark, intricate, moody illustrations for Verity Sparks…) Harriet and the Cherry Pie was illustrated by Charles Keeping. He’s a very stylish, ‘modern’ (this was the 50’s and 60’s) artist, often quite graphic and – as you can see by the cover – with strong design elements. Not sure about these illustrations, though. Someone a bit more cosy (Shirley Hughes?) might have worked better.



This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Kate C says:

    I agree, it doesn’t sound as if it would stand a chance today! But there is something so comforting and tranquil about books like this. And I miss illustrations, too. Imagine something like Green Knowe or Narnia without them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *