Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book Review: Black Banner Abroad by Gregory Trease (1954)

Since they are somewhat hard to find, I am having to read the Bannermere books out of order. Though my last review from this series was of the second book, today's review focuses on the fourth, Black Banner Abroad. Excitement abounds for Bill, Sue, Tim, and Penny when it is announced that their schools will travel to France to present Romeo and Juliet for a French school group. Before the trip departs, the four are given a seemingly impossible task by a simple local man called Willy the Waller. He wants them to seek out a woman who helped him during the war and repay for him an old debt, but his memories are spotty at best, and the kids are unsure whom they should find, or even exactly where they should look. Once they arrive in France, it is difficult to find time to complete their task, what with performance preparations, Bill's new interest in a girl named Gigi, and their obligations to the host families with whom they are staying, but with some help from some new friends, they get it done just before they must return home.

Unlike Under Black Banner, which seemed like a pretty generic sequel to follow the wonderful No Boats on Bannermere, this book is a worthy companion. The story involves a little bit of everything young readers enjoy - travel, theater, romance, mystery, history, and conflict. Even more than the previous books this one is a story about relationships, with lots of inter-personal drama and dialogue, which really brings the characters to life and encourages the reader to love them.  Penny is especially delightful in this story, as she shines on stage as the nurse despite her very obvious limp. The mystery is also a lot of fun to solve, as all the clues are present early on, but the characters must interpret them correctly to figure out the answer. Each time a new piece of the puzzle falls into place, there is an immense feeling of satisfaction for the reader.

This is the quintessential European travel novel. Though much of the story is heavily influenced by the events of World War II, which dates it to the early 1950s, the details of the visit to France overall are as relevant to  today's kids as they would have been to their grandparents. It continues to puzzle me that these books aren't more widely available. They are certainly better than many of the other titles that survive from the 50s, including Nancy Drew. If you can find a copy of this book, snatch it up! It's one of the best.

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