Sunday, 12 August 2012
This post is part of Playing By The Book's I'm Looking For A Book About... feature. Do please have a look at the other posts about going back to school, or starting school! If you're a teacher, a parent, or a student teacher, you'll be introduced to some fabulous books to inspire you.
Flora Fox is disgusted. Her parents are going to Italy for three months to help her grandmother, who has fallen and broken her leg, and after a disastrous summer holiday at Casa Boffi, have decided to send their daughter to a progressive boarding school instead of taking her with them. Furious, Flora is on the train when she falls asleep, and seems to hear voices chanting a strange rhyme. When she awakes, she is wearing an uncomfortable school clothes, including enormous knickers (of course Penrice Hall has no uniforms), and her mobile phone, iPod and laptop are all gone. She discovers that she has been switched with another girl called Flora, summoned by three St Winifred's schoolgirls from 1935: sweet but dim Dulcie, bright Pogo and charismatic but spoilt Pete. The girls have found a spell book in a mysterious closed room, and this is the first successful spell they've tried. Flora must survive mean girl Consuela Carver, fearsome Latin teacher Miss Harbottle and huge knickers, and work out how she can get back to the 21st century.
I really enjoyed this book. I've written before about why I love school stories, particularly the Chalet School, and Beswitched has all the best elements: the emphasis on character development, the opportunities for girls to be heroic, a rescue and resolution coming through conflict. I particularly liked that Flora is not a particularly admirable protagonist to begin with, but the changes in her character don't come through punishment, as poor Eustacia from the Chalet School books, but recognising the unattractive aspects of her character in Consuela and Pete, and her influence on their characters has some unexpected outcomes. It is also a very funny book.
It would be a great book to read with children before they start a new school; Flora makes some mistakes in a strange new situation, but she survives and ultimately triumphs. Highly recommended to 8+, and to fans of time slip novels, particularly Penelope Farmer's Charlotte Sometimes. One word of warning- there are some minor swears (bloody, damn and bollocks) which are totally in keeping with Flora's character and development, but you may want to make this a discussion point about the time and place for such language with children if you're reading it with them, or decide on the appropriate age for this book accordingly.