As someone who works in a school, I love reading books set in the environment because I find it fun to see how accurately an author has portrayed the job and situation for being in a school, so when I heard about Janey Fraser's novel The Playgroup, I knew it would be one I would want to read! I think the cover is great, and really portrays what the book is about, and I think it looks cute too! In case you weren't aware, Janey Fraser is the real name of Sophie King, under which name she has published several (rather excellent) novels so if you enjoy this, then do check out Sophie King's novels too. I found the book to be very realistic, and found I could relate to a lot of the scenarios too which was fantastic, and while it has its laugh out loud moments, the main crux of the story is very serious and made for a fantastic read.
Gemma Merryfield is pleased to finally be able to be in charge of her beloved Puddleducks nursery group, and is loving her job. Yes, the children can sometimes be challenging, and the parents even more so. But when a new teacher, Joe, takes over the reception class at the primary school linked to the nursery, the pair quickly clash and Gemma can't understand why he seems to have a problem with her. Couple that with the serious illness of one her small charges, and Gemma's life is quickly becoming more and more stressful, and running the nursery isn't quite as simple as she had hoped! I have to say I LOVE the character of Gemma. She was very believable and sounds like such a great nursery teacher, and Fraser writes her as someone who is great with the children too. I really liked reading about her, and wanted her to be happy. She's got a secret that we don't learn about until quite a way through the book, and I really liked that because I was constantly wondering what it was that was holding Gemma back so much.
There are quite a few characters in the book, and at first it is a little daunting to try and remember who is who. However, most of these aren't vital to the book, and as it progresses, it becomes clear who the main players are. One of these is Joe, the new primary school teacher who used to be a banker. This is getting more and more common, people coming into teaching later in life and from varying professions, and I liked that Fraser covered this, and the struggles that Joe goes through as well. He wasn't instantly likeable, and there is again a bit of a mystery about him too, and we're led up the garden path a bit before all is revealed. Another main character is Nancy, the American neurotic mother of Danny, one of Gemma's students. I have to say she really did wind me up, talk about obsessive and over the top, but as her story with Danny went on, I sympathised with her and found her to be a bit more tolerable! A lot of the children are brilliantly written, the other parents must have been inspired by people Fraser has met in real life because they seem so utterly real, it's brilliant and funny to read.
Regarding the actual story of the playgroup itself, I think Fraser has clearly done a lot of research not only into a playgroup and the staff and children, but the EYFS curriculum too as a lot is mentioned that was right, and from the perspective of someone who is in that environment all the time, it was very realistic and factual. She balances this nicely with the games and fun the children have, and then with the story of the serious illness of one child, and how important community and friendship can be at these hard times. The story has a lot going on but I found it a joy to read, and loved the twists and turns along the way, and often I was surprised with what was happening, and it was very unpredictable which was great. I didn't want to finish the book because that meant leaving these great characters behind, and I really did love them because I was absorbed by the book. What might start of a light-hearted read soon turns into something deeper and more serious, and was all the better for it. The book was a wonderful read from start to finish, and is a brilliantly crafted and realistic tale of what really goes on in a nursery/playgroup! I can't wait for Janey Fraser's second offering, The Au Pair, which is due out this July!