Book name: Jo of the Chalet School
Author: Elinor Brent-Dyer
Publisher: W & R Chambers
Format: ebook, print
Genre: School stories, vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1926
Star Rating: 5/5
Although Jo of the Chalet School was originally published in 1926, my personal copy is one of the Harper Collins reprints from 1998. There’s nothing like owning a vintage copy of a book, but that’s not always possible by any means.
I’m glad to see much-loved Chalet School stories staying in print to delight new generations of readers.
Jo of the Chalet School is the second book in the series, the sequel to The School at the Chalet. After the excitement of the school’s foundation, we see it expand until it has pupils from all over central Europe and England.
However, the focus during much of Jo of the Chalet School is actually on family; many scenes have quite a homely feel. Elinor Brent-Dyer also puts Jo’s emerging talent as a writer centre stage.
We see Jo successfully launch a school magazine, The Chaletian, and one of her own stories is published in its pages.
There are also some personal developments for Madge, so overall we receive quite a strong sense from Elinor Brent-Dyer of how these two young women will see their lives grow in the years to come.
Their family also expands when they take in a young child, nicknamed the Robin, who is the daughter of one of Madge’s old friends. The Robin’s mother has died and her father must travel on business, but the Robin finds a loving home with Madge and Jo.
Courtesy of these developments, and with their brother Dick so far away in India, the Bettanys are suddenly an all-female family of three.
The early part of Jo of the Chalet School is devoted to the autumn term and the run up to Christmas. In the Tyrol, this is a particularly special time and the whole effect was wonderfully atmospheric. The Bettanys spent Christmas with Frieda’s family, the Mensches, in Innsbruck.
We see them learn to ski, go sleigh riding and meet the grandmother of the family. It’s delightful, and I really enjoyed that cosy feel with the focus on time spent in a family home.
At times Jo of the Chalet School didn’t feel entirely like a school story, but that just demonstrates the versatility of Elinor Brent-Dyer’s writing.
The sub-zero weather continues well into the new year, and Jo gets into as many scrapes as we would expect given her confident nature and penchant for adventure. This provides much of the action we enjoy in Jo of the Chalet School.
When the lake freezes over a festival on the ice is arranged, but the Chalet School girls are forbidden to go along because the event is generally quite rough and it isn’t considered suitable.
That doesn’t stop Jo, but she is rescued by Dr Jem Russell, who is staying locally and planning to start a sanitorium further up into the hills.
The great thaw brings further physical challenges, and Jem is again there to support Madge as their friendship grows.
Overall, winter and the cosy opportunities that presents to spend time with friends and family is the theme of Jo of the Chalet School. The welcome received by the Robin was genuinely touching and shows us that Madge feels the school to be a vocation rather than a job.
Jo’s inner devils mean that she will always be struggling to keep herself in line, but her writing develops and we see a path for her emerging just as Madge makes a life-changing decision about her own future direction.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of The Chalet School in Exile by Elinor Brent Dyer.
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