The stories of Miss Read, starting with “Village School”

I have in my book collection a boxed set of five books by Miss Read (the pseudonym for the writer Dora Saint). I bought these in the 1970s having won a school prize of a book token (I think of £5) for my “O” level results and the bookplate I got with the token is carefully attached to the front of the box and held in place by sticky backed plastic. This tells you quite a lot about what sort of books I enjoyed as a teenager and the fact that I still have the books more than forty years later tells you the residual affection I have for the tales, if not for the school.

Miss Read was a teacher in rural areas and started writing after WW2 about her experiences in schools where she was the sole teacher or one of only two. The first book I have in my set is Village School which is her debut novel and the first in a series about the small school, its children and the local characters. They are told in the first person with the idea that Miss Read herself is the teacher who is narrating the story and that they are a form of memoir.

The books are easy reading and episodic in nature and told with a gentle humour. Miss Read despairs at the attitude and activities of Mrs Pringle the cleaner, she laughs at the misunderstandings of the children, and she wrestles with the other teachers who come and go at the school. In later books she is also challenged by friends and neighbours who try and pair her off with local, single, professional men. She also writes about the school being at the heart of the community and how everything that affects the school also affects the village and vice versa.

The stories range through the school year and concentrate on things like the beginning of term, harvest, Christmas, school holidays, bad weather and moving on. The children are at the centre of the books and their portrayal is always sympathetic although she is in no doubt about the fact that they can be very badly behaved indeed. She doesn’t ignore the issue of children with learning disabilities or those who come from very poor or neglectful homes. Despite this, however, the overall atmosphere of the books is hopeful.

If you have never read these books it is worth digging them out and seeing if you enjoy them. They bring to life a time which is now gone but about which the author always writes affectionately and with humour.