School's Out! by Jack Sheffield
|School's Out! by Jack Sheffield|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Make a cuppa and luxuriate in nostalgia. This is for you who were 80s schoolchildren, us who raised 80s schoolchildren and anyone else who fancies joining the inhabitants of Ragley-on-the-Forest for many laughs, a few tears and a good gossip over the fence.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: January 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
The beginning of September 1983 starts a new academic year for the village primary school of Ragley-on-the-Forest. Headmaster Jack Sheffield starts the autumn term with a skip in his step as he and wife Sally enjoy their new baby, John William despite the broken nights. What else will the year bring? The advent of a new teacher and a tragedy that strikes sorrow in the heart of the village reduces Jack's skip a bit but there are always moments to lift the mood; for instance, whatever it was that little Madonna Fazackerly did in her cat's ear. It's all there in the school's daily log; perhaps not the one that the inspectors see, you understand, all is explained in living detail here in Jack's memoir of life as a teacher and villager.
Ragley-on-the-Forest is fictitiously based on the villages at the foot of Yorkshire's Hambleton Hills however, Yorkshire man Jack Sheffield's teaching career was real enough (although his pupils will remember him as Mr Linley). Now he's retired, his recollections are reeling off the press, this being the seventh in his 'Teacher' series.
School's Out! follows the format of the other books in that it's a bit James Herriot-esque featuring a school-centred community rather than one that's vet-based. If I have a small gripe it's concerning one of the means by which Jack spreads his ambient air of nostalgia. Nostalgia comes from summoning up the past, obviously, but people in Ragley go one step further. They don't just wax their car, they Turtle-wax their car. Somewhere else Jack goes shopping, not just for moisturiser, but for Pond's cold cream and we're taught that the latest Adam Ant Annual costs £1 and a Remington Popcorn Maker is £14.95. It's all very specific and repeated, sometimes getting in the way of the story's flow. That said the positives definitely outweigh such a minor moan.
The school's children are young enough to be Joyce Grenfellian, producing the wonderful guffaws and giggles that brought questioning glances from my husband. It's hard to imagine the person who wouldn't warm to little Charlie, named after his father (his father's name is Frank, by the way), and his limping pet spider or the child who thinks that a 'remainder pulled Santa's sleigh. I also love little Madonna, but there again I don't need to teach her. This isn't all about the kids though.
The concerns of the adults are real enough and the village doesn't remain untouched by tragedy and the need for mutual support in shock. (Hankies ready – there will be tears.) As the series progresses each person becomes a friendly face in a world where many of us don't even know our neighbours. While the prose may not win literary awards (although someone who thinks of calling a child 'Heathcliffe Earnshaw' definitely deserves one), I know that Jack Sheffield is a writer to whom I'll return again and again as his narration and his acquaintances/creations like Lollipop Lil, Vera the school secretary and pigeon-fancier Ronnie provide a chocolate-like warm comfort in a world where that's difficult to find.
If this appeals, you may also enjoy Dr Finlay's Casebook by A J Cronin, an older but just as charming collection of fictional memoirs.
You can read more book reviews or buy School's Out! by Jack Sheffield at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy School's Out! by Jack Sheffield at Amazon.com.
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