Noel Streatfeild was a British author who lived from 1895 to 1986 and published more than 60 books, most of which were written for children. While she was most well-known for children's classics such as Ballet Shoes and White Boots1, Streatfeild also authored a charming series of four books about a young girl named Gemma and her cousins. The books were published in rapid succession between 1968 and 1969, and have since been re-released several times. Sadly, the changing cover illustrations have been somewhat less charming with each subsequent edition.
In this, the first book in the series, 11-year-old British child film star Gemma Bow comes to live with her cousins, the Robinson family. Gemma's mother has been offered a TV series in America and because Gemma's career is temporarily 'washed up', she is sent to live with her mother's sister. The move is quite a shock for Gemma, as she moves from being a rather pampered only child in a wealthy home to being one of four children in a happy, but laid-back, family.
Gemma had expected to be the only 'talented' child in her new family, but she quickly discovers that this isn't the case. Her cousin Ann, who is also 11, turns out to be a talented singer. Nine year-old Lydie is a promising ballet dancer, and seven year-old Robin is another singer and a budding composer. It is not surprising that the children are musically talented, as their father had been the first-chair violinist in a famous orchestra until arthritic hands halted his career.
Gemma doesn't want the kids at her new school to know that she's an ex-movie star, so she goes to school as Gemma Robinson. However, she quickly discovers that she doesn't like not being the centre of attention, and much of the book deals with the various ways she tries to gain popularity among her peers. Towards the end of the book, Gemma joins the school drama group and has a chance to shine. In addition, her cousins' grandmother suggests that Gemma form a performing group with her cousins, setting the stage for the next book in the series.
Gemma and Sisters
The children formed a performing group called 'Gemma and Sisters' at the end of the first book, and this next chronicle describes several performances by the group. Of course, other things happen in the book as well. Gemma stars as Lady Jane Grey in a moving school play. Lydia injures her leg cycling and the whole family worries about whether she will ever dance again. At the end of Gemma and Sisters, her teachers recognise Gemma as being Gemma Bow the film star, and her uncle decides to send her to a special school for the coming year, as she still isn't getting on well.
In Gemma Alone, Gemma gets a part as Rebecca on a TV series based on the book Rebecca of Sunnybook Farm. For the filming, she has to move back to London temporarily, and lives with her old, doting governess. The children's group appears on a TV talent contest and wins, but the record producer who signs the group only wants Ann as a solo pop singer. Day-to-day life fills the in between, with Gemma attending her new school and the family going on some wonderful summer vacations.
This last book in the quartet seems to focus mostly on the three girls growing up. Gemma acts in a university production of Romeo and Juliet and falls in love with her Romeo. Ann struggles with the fame of being an unintentional pop star, and copes with the differences between her ideas of her future and her father's. Lydia causes considerable chaos when she runs away to attend a dance audition. The main theme of the book seems to be one of letting go. At the end of the book, Gemma leaves the family to live with her mother again, who has returned to London.