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The Growing Summer

The Growing Summer was first published in 1966. The US edition (1967) was entitled The Magic Summer. A UK edition is still available, but is out of print in the US.

Story | Background | Awards | Thoughts | Editions and Availability | Other Media


Alex, Penny, Robin and Naomi Gareth live in London. When their father is taken ill overseas, Mother flies out to be with him. She arranges for the children to be looked after by their Great-Aunt Dymphna, who also looked after Father when he was a child.

Great-Aunt Dymphna has a large house in Ireland, and tells the children they can stay in the west wing and look after themselves. The children find it very difficult at first, being quite inexperienced at cooking, shopping and washing. The situation is made worse when they discover a runaway boy hiding in their part of the house.


After the Second World War, Noel started making annual visits to an Irish friend, Rachel Leigh-White, who lived in Bantry Bay. Angela Bull suggests that the inspiration for The Growing Summer came when Noel listened to Pete Seegar's popular song "Little Boxes" (a protest against urban life):

The contrast between the scattered white cottages of Bantry Bay, and the crowded homes of London and its suburbs, struck her forcibly ... Suppose, she thought, some children were taken away from their monochrome suburban existence, and exposed to the glorious anarchy of Ireland. What would happen to them? (1984:233)


The television serial of The Growing Summer won a silver medal at the 1969 Venice Film Festival.


(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have not read the book.)

The Growing Summer is thematically similar to The Circus is Coming. In both books, the children are placed in a unfamiliar environment, and must learn to cope with it. Because the Gareth children are so completely "normal" (not having suffered from Peter and Santa's unusual upbringing) the reader is likely to sympathise with them at first, and feel that Great-Aunt Dymphna is being rather unreasonable. In fact, the children - Alex and Penny in particular - do seem to cope as well as might be expected. However, like Peter and Santa, they need to learn that they have disrupted their Great-Aunt's life, and she is, in fact, being generous in agreeing to look after them.

In The Circus is Coming, Peter is surprised when Ben points out that Gus "Must 'a' done away with most of 'is comfort havin' you" (The Circus is Coming, 1938:199). He and Santa had never thought that it might not have suited Gus to take them in: "It was a new idea. Peter could not accept it right away. He felt he had a proper grievance, that he was being picked on unfairly. It was not easy to switch his mind to what Gus was putting up with on his account" (The Circus is Coming, 1938:199-200). Similarly, in The Growing Summer, when Oonagh tells the children that they are being ungrateful, they "were so surprised they were silenced. Ever since they had been in Reenmore they had felt that they were brave and uncomplaining, never once in their letters to their father and mother had they hinted how awful Reenmere was, and how hard they were expected to work. Now it took their breath away to hear that a sensible person like Oonagh was on Aunt Dymphna's side, and thought it was she who was suffering by having them in her house" (The Growing Summer, 1966:183-4). Peter, Santa and the Gareths have assumed that "people always look after children" (The Circus is Coming, 1938:204): eventually, they learn that, while this is true, it does not mean that the adults will automatically enjoy it.

Editions and Availability

UK Editions

The Growing Summer was first published in 1966 by Collins, with Edward Ardizzone illustrations. It was reprinted in 1984.

Puffin released a paperback edition in 1968, which was reprinted in the 1970s and 1980s with a photograph from the television serial on the cover. The Edward Ardizzone illustrations were retained.

An Armada Lion paperback was released in 1994.

US Editions

It was released in the United States in 1967, by Random House, as The Magic Summer. This edition was reprinted in 1971.

A Dell paperback edition was released in 1967, and reprinted (as a "Bantam Doubleday Dell Book for Younger Readers") in 1987.

As I have not read the US editions, I do not know if the text was in any way amended.

Still in print

1994 Collins paperback of The Growing Summer - click to see HarperCollins webpage    

The Magic Summer is out of print in the US.

In the UK, Collins released a paperback edition of The Growing Summer in 1994.

HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. © 1966 Noel Streatfeild

Other Media

In 1969, London Weekend Television produced a six-episode serial of The Growing Summer, starring Wendy Hiller as Aunt Dymphna. It was filmed in Bantry Bay, and many of the scenes were shot in the actual places Noel had envisaged when writing the book - including the house of her friend, Rachel Leigh-White. In the introduction to the 1971 Puffin edition, Kaye Webb (the editor) says that Noel "has asked us to point out that the television version has changed the order of the book in places. There are also scenes that don't appear in the original story. But that usually happens when a book is adapted for another medium, especially when it is being serialised. The film won a silver medal at the 1969 Venice Film Festival" (1971:1).

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Images reproduced by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
© 1966 Noel Streatfeild

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