A playgroup is never a dull place at the best of times and Puddleducks is no exception. Gemma Merryfield loves running the group and is never short of ideas for new songs and making learning fun. Unfortunately, the new head of Reception at neighbouring Corrybank School is somewhat scathing of her methods. However, they do need to work together especially when one child falls seriously ill and another goes missing. Will they be able to put their differences aside though and present a united front?
Gemma Merryfield is really looking forward to her first term in charge of Puddleducks Playgroup. The children are delightful, although sometimes challenging, and the parents are generally supportive. There are visits to local farms to organise, a Halloween assembly to plan and the end of term Nativity play to look forward to. She loves writing the monthly newsletters and creating little rhymes to help the children with their learning. These provide delightful interludes at various points in the story.
Gemma is also extremely intrigued about the new head of reception, Joanna Balls. However, she, along with all of the other staff members, is very surprised to discover that Joanna is actually Joe, an ex banker who has been working in a tough inner London school. Although he is quite a dish, he soon starts getting people's backs up, especially Gemma's, with his criticism of the way that Puddleducks is run. Their relationship becomes even more strained when Joe moves into his new bedsit and discovers that Gemma is actually his next door neighbour.
The book is not just about Gemma and Joe though, as Janey Fraser has created a whole host of charming and intriguing characters - the children and their parents who attend the playgroup. There are a wide range of loveable characters including headstrong and lively Billy; Lily, the reticent daughter of a celebrity and Nancy, the ever so slightly neurotic mother and her lovely son Danny. There are story lines that involve all of these and they all interweave together beautifully. If you've ever worked in early education, it is highly likely that you will recognise many of these characters.
'The Playgroup' is Janey Fraser's first book and it is really impressive. She is a great storyteller who has created many interesting, believable characters that are very easy to like and to care about. I really enjoyed the way she merges amusing daily incidents within the playgroup with the underlying stories particularly those involving Gemma and Joe. At the start of the book, she does tend to tease the reader a bit and drops hints about their private lives that might send one's thoughts of in varying directions. However, little by little, everything becomes clear and all the different aspects of the story fit together perfectly. The story spans one hectic term at Puddleducks and what a turbulent term it is!
Overall, 'The Playgroup' is an extremely satisfying and enjoyable read. I found myself caught up in the book from the very first pages and it was a book that I hardly wanted to put down.
This review has previously appeared under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk