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The Painted Garden

The Painted Garden was first published in serial form in 1948, and as a book (subtitled The Story of a Holiday in Hollywood) in 1949. The US edition (also 1949) was entitled Movie Shoes. It is now out of print, although the recent (2000) Collins paperback may still be available in shops.

Story | Connections to Other Books | Background | Thoughts | Editions and Availability | Other Media


Rachel, Jane and Tim Winter live in London. Following a car accident, their father has been depressed and unable to work (he is a writer). The doctor says that an English winter will be very bad for him, and and his sister, the children's Aunt Cora, invites the whole family, including their "mother's help" Miss Bean ("Peaseblossom") to stay with her in California.

Even though they obviously want their father to get better, the children have mixed feelings about this. Tim is not overly concerned, even though a famous pianist has just offered to give him lessons. Tim feels that he can keep practising while he is in America, and start with the new teacher when he gets back to England. Rachel, a talented dancer who has been studying at the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, is very upset. She has just turned twelve, and has been selected as one of six children to dance in a musical play - her first professional engagement. (The M'audition Pieces article gives details of her audition song and speech.) However, with her mother's support, she hides her disappointment from her father. Jane (the "difficult one") is appalled. Her dog, Chewing Gum, will not be able to come with them, and she initially refuses to go and leave "the only person who really and truly loves me" (The Painted Garden, 1949:34). However, eventually the doctor convinces Jane to leave Chewing Gum with him while they are away.

After an exciting journey by sea and train, the family arrives in California. Aunt Cora does not have a piano, but Tim finds one in a nearby drug store, and arranges with the owner that he can use it to practise on as long as he also plays to entertain the customers. The head of Rachel's school, Madame Fidolia, has written to her former pupil, Posy Fossil, and asked her to arrange for ballet lessons for Rachel while she is in California. Rachel meets Posy, her sister Pauline, and also Sylvia and Nana (all characters familiar to readers of Ballet Shoes).

Jane is walking along the beach when she sees a dog eating a "very dead fish". Jane is angry that the dog's owner will let him wander around alone, and eat bad fish that will make him sick. She has seen the house the dog comes from, so she takes him back and tells the owner that "some people don't deserve to have dogs" (The Painted Garden, 1949:123). The owner (Mr Bryan J. Browne) turns out to be a film director. He is just about to start on a film of The Secret Garden, but unfortunately the child actress who was to play Mary has fallen ill. Having seen Jane's disagreeable and haughty attitude as she talked to him about caring for his dog, he feels she would be perfect for the part. Jane is delighted - for the first time she will be the most important member of the family, rather than simply the "untalented one". However, film work proves to be far more difficult than she had imagined.

Connections to Other Books

The Winter children do not appear in any other books by Noel Streatfeild. However, because The Painted Garden features the Fossil family, and briefly the Children's Academy, it has connections with a number of Noel's other books.

The most obvious of these is Ballet Shoes, Noel's first book for children. It is in this book that we are first introduced to Pauline and Posy Fossil, as well as Sylvia and Nana (all of whom Rachel meets in America). In addition, Madame Fidolia, who has a major role in Ballet Shoes, appears briefly in The Painted Garden.

Other books featuring the Fossil girls, and the Children's Academy, are Curtain Up and Apple Bough . They also appear in several short stories: "What Happened to Pauline, Petrova and Posy" and "Coralie".

It has been pointed out to me [thank you Rebecca Harrison] that there is a possible additional connection between Curtain Up and The Painted Garden. Early on in The Painted Garden, there is a passing reference to another ballet student at the Academy called Miriam: " 'I bet you get chosen. You and, of course, Miriam and Sylvia, Frances, Audrey and Annette.' The six were all small and considered in the school exceptionally promising" (The Painted Garden, 1949:26). It is possible that this is meant to be Miriam Cohen, who was 8 in Curtain Up and would therefore be about 12 or 13 in The Painted Garden.

Aside from this, The Painted Garden/Move Shoes has no connections to the other "shoes" books.


After Party Frock, Noel felt that she had run out of ideas. She says in Beyond the Vicarage that it was "as if something had dried up in her brain" (1971: 184). However, with wartime restrictions easing, it was now possible for her to return to her pre-War approach of thoroughly researching new subjects for her books. Her agent suggested that she take a trip to America. She could visit her publishers in New York, but travel by the "long sea route" (via Los Angeles) and research a new book, with a film background. In fact, Noel was not able to have this itinerary (travel was difficult, as all the ships were taking American troops home), but in 1947 she set off on a boat for New York, and then travelled overland to Los Angeles.

Noel visited film studios in Hollywood, and in particular spent several weeks observing the filming of The Secret Garden, in which child star Margaret O'Brien played the character of Mary Lennox. Angela Bull says that Noel "watched the film children doing lessons, having costume-fittings, giving press interviews, rehearsing, and, of course, filming. ... She filled her notebook with every aspect of studio life" (1984:190).


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

As with Tennis Shoes, in The Painted Garden Noel chooses to have the "difficult child" as her heroine. Although all three children act as perspective characters at various stages, the main plot surrounds Jane. However, unlike Nicky in Tennis Shoes, Jane does not emerge as the family member "most likely to succeed". Trapped between two attractive and talented siblings, Jane is a plain child who, despite quickness at schoolwork, is essentially ordinary. Her generally disagreeable attitude arises, in part, from a sense of inferiority. Sadly - and unusually, for one of Noel's characters - her ambition to become a world-famous animal trainer seem little more than a child's fantasy. It is more likely that she will remain in the shadow of her overachieving siblings. Geraldine Brennan (1995) describes her as a "representative of middle-child misery", and feels that she is "perhaps Streatfeild's most endearing player for all her infuriating 'black-doggishness'. As she threatens to scowl through a Californian Christmas, she is misunderstood by everyone except her creator".

Unfortunately, while Jane is a very real character - related to, but clearly different from, Nicky - the same cannot be said for Rachel and Tim. Rachel lacks the subtlety of Susan (Tennis Shoes), and instead is a very standard "good girl" older sister. Tim is another of Noel's "musical small brother" characters, described by Angela Bull as "dangerously close to cliché" (1984:195). Although he is more developed than David (Tennis Shoes), and distinctly different from Mark (Curtain Up), he is not particularly interesting. Everything seems to come easily to him - there is no sense of struggle or anxiety, and he never goes through the agonies his sisters do. When Bella tells him that the Lord will provide a piano, he calmly accepts it ... and, miraculously, it happens.

Angela Bull feels that The Painted Garden is "an ambitious enterprise which, in the end, disappoints through being overloaded with excessive adulation for everything American. ... [W]hen the Hollywood romance and fervid travel writing are stripped away, the disquieting truth that Noel was merely repeating old themes and old stories is laid bare" (1984:195). To some extent, Nancy Huse (1994) appears to agree with this, viewing it as a re-worked Tennis Shoes. However, as mentioned above, although there may be superficial similarities, the three Winter children are distinctly different from the Heaths. Similarly, while Peaseblossom fills the same "mother's help" role as Pinny, she has a very different background and (except when suffering the effects of sea sickness) is far less ineffectual.

Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig (You're a Brick, Angela!) view The Painted Garden in a very different light from Bull and Huse, feeling that it "provided a standard which could not easily be maintained" (1976:295). Similarly, Susan Ang, writing in Victor Watson's Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English, finds it "perhaps the most deeply satisfying of all Streatfeild's books" (2001:680). Ang is particularly interested in the intertextual nature of the work, suggesting that The Painted Garden "does more than merely (re)present other texts within itself. ... As the film-making progresses, the changes that come about in Mary in Burnett's book are duplicated in Jane. ... Being liked and appreciated [by David Doe] makes her 'better not worse', and the conclusion of The Painted Garden reaffirms the meaning of its guest text" (2001:680).

No discussion of The Painted Garden is complete without looking at Pauline and Posy Fossil. This is the last time we actually see them, although Posy will be mentioned in Apple Bough. Cadogan and Craig point out that the adult Fossils have not developed from their childhood selves in Ballet Shoes: "They remain fantasy figures, self-sufficient and unbothered by emotional troubles", although this is preferable to the "fuss, mawkishness or annoying unrealism which has attended the ageing of innumerable other children's-book characters" (1976:294). Nevertheless, for fans of the earlier book, it is exciting to see what is happening with the Fossils. In The Painted Garden we find out that Pauline is finally leaving films to embark on the stage career she has always wanted. Posy is to become the prima ballerina of Manoff's company, the future she had envisaged, but which had became rather more problematic with the onset of the Second World War. It seems only fitting that, in their final appearance, the futures implied for them at the end of Ballet Shoes should finally be fulfilled.

Editions and Availability

UK Editions

The Painted Garden was first published in serial form, illustrated by Marcia Lane Foster, in Collins Magazine for Boys and Girls in 1948. In 1949, Collins published it in book form, with illustrations by Len Kenyon.

In 1961, Puffin Books issued a revised edition, illustrated by Shirley Hughes. This edition was reprinted a number of times throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Most of the revisions in this edition consist of removing a number of small details - nothing is added, and the only changes to text are to ensure a smooth transition past the cuts. In the first half of the book, the majority of these changes are to remove references to rationing in post-War England. In the second half, however, there are some more significant changes, that do affect the plot. Following is a list of most of the sections cut from the revised Puffin edition:

  • From the Foreword, the names of individuals who helped Noel (although the names of organisations remain).
  • Two paragraphs that refer to rationing at the beginning of Chapter Five, as well as a mention that Peaseblossom's chocolate biscuits were bought "with the points" (1949:123).
  • Several paragraphs about food on the Mauritania (the excitement of unlimited butter, and real orange juice) from Chapter Six.
  • A section about girls' clothes in America from Chapter Seven.
  • "if we had a white of egg, only, of course, we didn't have, but in America there are lots of eggs" from Chapter Eleven.
  • A further section about girls' clothes in America from Chapter Twelve
  • A reference in Chapter 18 to clothes being bought with coupons
  • The second half of Chapter 21 (which has also been renamed, from "No-Good Chipmunk" to "The Farmer's Market"), in which Tim receives a letter from Mr Brown with suggestions of what to play on Hiram's Hour, and John and Rachel go to the Farmer's Market.
  • Several pages in Chapter 22 in which the family talk about Thanksgiving.
  • A sentence in Chapter 23 that refers to Tim's letter from Mr Brown (which was cut from Chapter 21)
  • Several pages in Chapter 24 about Tim playing jokes with Brent at Hiram's Hour and Peaseblossom being angry that he is not taking his talent seriously. It finishes with Tim telling Peaseblossom that he will be making a gramophone record.
  • The entirety of Chapter 25, in which Rachel tells Jane she is hoping to be asked to join Manoff's ballet company, everyone visits the film studio and has photographs taken, and the family (except for Rachel and Jane) goes to Death Valley while Aunt Cora accompanies Jane to the studio.
  • The opening paragraph of Chapter 26 (now 25, due to the removal of the previous chapter) is slightly rewritten.
  • A short section in Chapter 27/26 where Rachel hints to her father that she may stay in America, and a few sentences about the women in Manoff's company not wanting to do the dance he has chosen to rehearse. This chapter also has a slight addition - Rachel telling Jane she hopes that Manoff will ask her to stay (which was done in more detail in the original Chapter 25). The book Rachel gives Posy is changed from Sadler's Wells ballet to The Royal Ballet.

A Collins paperback edition was released in 2000: it seems likely that this is the revised 1961 text.

US Editions

In the same year as its UK release (1949), it was released in the United States by Random House, as Movie Shoes, with illustrations by Susanne Suba. This edition is quite heavily abridged from the UK first edition. Changes include:

  • Chapter 8, "The Santa Fe Trail," is cut out completely.
  • Chapter 21, "The Farmer's Market," becomes Chapter 20, "The Crisis," and the narrative stops with "That dog's sure got sense".
  • Chapter 22, "Thanksgiving" becomes Chapter 21, also "Thanksgiving", and is somewhat edited.
  • Chapter 26, "Tim's Birthday," is distilled to four and a half pages.
  • Chapter 27, "Last Things," is cut out completely.

(Thank you to Sally Stokes for advising me of these changes.)

In 1984, Movie Shoes was released as a Dell Yearling paperback, still with Susanne Suba's illustrations.

Out of Print

2000 Collins paperback edition of The Painted Garden    

The 2000 Collins paperback edition of The Painted Garden may still be available in shops. However, it is no longer listed on the HarperCollins website, and can therefore be assumed to be out of print.

In February 2004, second hand copies through online booksellers start in price at around 2. (Source: Addall Used and Out of Print Book Search.)

HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. © 1948 Noel Streatfeild

Other Media

According to Nancy Huse (1994), there has been an audiocassette recording of The Painted Garden (or possibly Movie Shoes). However, this no longer appears to be available.


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© 1949 Noel Streatfeild

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