Tag Archives: Enid Blyton

Dare to be honest?

When asked for the best children’s books, do you a) list the ones you truly loved the best, or b) mention the ones you reckon are expected of you? The ‘proper’ books of childhood.

Last week I was impressed to find I wasn’t totally alone in thinking the new list of 11 best books for under tens, published by the BBC wasn’t one I agreed with. They asked critics, who are supposed know about this. All adults, I imagine.

Charlotte’s Web, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Where the Wild Things Are, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Little Women, The Little Prince, Winnie-the-Pooh, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Wizard of Earthsea, A Wrinkle in Time, Little House on the Prairie.

These are fine books. But how much were they even the favourites when these critics were under ten, and how likely is it that they will continue to please young readers of today? Under ten 25 or 50 years ago is not the same as now. Much as I loved Little Women, I’d give it to an older reader today.

I’m not too keen on Roald Dahl. Never read Narnia, but accept that many have and will continue to do so. I have a feeling I’ve not got round to Charlotte’s Web, either. It’s one of those books that are always mentioned, and so well known that it can be hard to keep track of whether or not you’ve actually read it.

Surely this is primarily a list of the books a group of adults believe they loved the best, or feel are the books they ought to admit to in public? Rather like the castaways on Desert Island Discs, who were always asking for the Bible and Shakespeare, and I suspect, not always because those are the very best books in the world. True, there is a lot to read in both, but the choice feels more to be about what you dare say in public. Brave is the person who’d admit to not being a reader, or one who’d prefer Enid Blyton or Lee Child, to pick a couple of very popular writers.

As a foreigner, I feel I’m allowed not to know all these books from childhood. But if I were to choose my favourites, I feel I would be expected to go for Astrid Lindgren, rather than some unknown or forgotten light fiction (by that I mean there were lots of books I loved to bits, but where I either didn’t note the author’s name, or can’t remember it now). Nothing wrong with Astrid, I hasten to add, but whereas I liked Pippi Longstocking back then, today I’d rather not suggest her, but go for one of the others.

And there is that difference between now and then. What I liked 50 years ago, and what I reckon a little Bookwitch today would enjoy. It’s not the same. These critics would also not all be the same age, so their choices show a top eleven from the mid-20th century onwards.

If Offspring were under ten today, there are about four books on the list I’d give them (wouldn’t prevent them from picking any of the books themselves, of course). If I ever end up with Grand-Offspring, I might offer two of these books, and after that I’d go for much more recent books. There are countless wonderful reads for under tens from the last 25 years.

Food, glorious food

How can anyone not love the food in the Famous Five books? I just don’t get it.

I obviously liked the children and I liked their adventures, but I’m pretty sure I rated their food above everything else. Oh how they ate! Lots of it, all the time. And it sounded so tasty, too.

The food seems to be one of the things people have to point out as a negative aspect of Enid Blyton’s books. That, and the class distinctions between the children and the baddies. But the class stuff was lost in translation. We didn’t do class (I won’t say ‘at all’ but not like that, so it wasn’t noticeable). Hence we didn’t see it.

My best friend during the Blyton years kept saying ‘but they eat all the time.’ She enjoyed the books, but clearly felt the food got in the way slightly.

I thought the books were so truly wonderful it didn’t even occur to me to apply any literary analysis. Not that I could have, even if I’d known about such things.

They wake up in the morning and come down to (that phrase, ‘come down to,’ is so wow, in itself) a cooked breakfast, provided by the mother/aunt. And if they stayed in (hah) there was lunch and tea and dinner. Cake for tea, and puddings. What’s not to like?

There was food in the larder. You could help yourself.

If they went out on adventures they made sure to pack all sorts of goodies. Heaven for a fat little reader. It seemed to be allowed. I suppose they ran so fast chasing baddies that they used up the calories.

Ice cream. Sweets. Crisps, probably.

They led charmed lives. They really did.

(The only time I came anywhere close to this state, was when visiting my pen friend in Surrey for two weeks. We watched television in the afternoon – an impossibility in Sweden – and her mother brought us freshly made cake every day. It was probably a blessing it was for a fortnight only.)

Paws and Whiskers

Who knew Philip Pullman has had dogs? Yeah, I suppose you all did, except me. He doesn’t strike me as a pet person, somehow. But he has had dogs. Three, of which two were very stupid, according to the doting Philip.

I learned all this in Paws and Whiskers, which is an anthology about cats and dogs, chosen by none other than Jacqueline Wilson. She wrote about her own cats, and they sounded so lovely I was halfway to Battersea and its Dogs & Cats* Home before I remembered I don’t want a pet.

Being my normal cynical self, I was intending to glance at this anthology, before handing it to someone who might appreciate it. Seems that person is me. I have only sampled the odd thing here and there – so far – but I can see that P&W will have to join my shelf of collections, where I can dip in and out of stories as and when I need something nice. (Will have to see about getting the shelf made longer.)

Jacqueline Wilson, Paws and Whiskers

Jacqueline has written a new story herself, and there is also her old Werepuppy. Apart from Philip Pullman, you can read about Malorie Blackman’s fondness for German shepherds, even when they are cowards. The usual suspects like Michael Morpurgo and Enid Blyton are there, as is Sharon Creech with her lovely Dog. Adèle Geras has written about a cat I didn’t know she once had, including a poem about her beloved pet, who was never left alone when they went on holiday. They took turns…

Patrick Ness is there with his much missed Manchee, along with countless expected and unexpected authors who have had pets, or who have written about them. Some pieces are excerpts from books, and other stories have been specially written for P&W.

The really good thing with this kind of selection of writing is that if you love Jacqueline (and who doesn’t?) you will discover new writers and their work, simply because if it’s good enough for your hero, it will be good enough for you.

Illustrations – as nearly always – by Nick Sharratt.

*Some of the proceeds from the sale of this book go to the home.

The best combination

The book I’m reading now is that best of things. It’s a children’s book. And it’s crime. I’m having trouble staying away from it. You’ll wonder why that is a problem, and the thing is I have so much to do. But I find myself sitting down, promising to read just one chapter before whatever.

It is often several chapters when I surface again.

Back in the olden days I don’t recall finding crime for children once you were past Enid Blyton & Co. So the thing for young readers who wanted to go on detecting, was to move on to adult crime novels. Which was all right as long as you could stick to Agatha Christie and other ‘light murderers.’

Those books are obviously still with us, and presumably young teens who have watched Poirot, might consider trying them. But am I wrong in thinking that new crime tends to be generally more gruesome, and thereby less suitable for the post-Blyton fan?

Actually, there is old-style cosy crime still being published. But when I think new crime, I think much more graphic, with more violence and sex and swearing than you want for your average 14-year-old.

And the reverse question is whether there was a lot of that around 40 years ago, and I just didn’t notice? Among the crime novels I receive now, I seem to mainly be in for the very, very bloody and depressing ones. There are books I just look at briefly, before deciding that even if I had twice the time, I wouldn’t dream of reading that. This week, one arrived accompanied by a wooden spatula, engraved with the title of the book, and both had to go.

On the other hand, with YA books, there is less need to jump straight  from Blyton to, say, Stuart MacBride. One excellent choice would be the one I’m reading now. More about that on Monday. Hopefully.

You can never have too much intelligent YA crime.

But Mummy read that!

What will today’s young readers want to force their – as yet unborn – children to read? Or if they are really understanding parents (rather like me!) simply sigh over and decide that maybe XXX is a bit old-fashioned and since there are so many lovely new books, they will just let Little Darling read those instead.

With it being Roald Dahl day later this week, I was thinking about an article I read, which said that it’s mainly the parents who favour Dahl’s books now. Because they were the books they themselves read as children. (With me it was the other way round. I read Dahl to keep abreast of what Son and his peers liked.)

So what didn’t I force Offspring to read? Primarily the ‘real’ classics. The books that were pretty ancient even in my time, like The Three Musketeers and Ivanhoe, or Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I could almost forgive them for having no interest at all in those books.

But more ‘contemporary’ books like Pippi Longstocking were required reading. Or so I thought. Reading which we got round by watching the films and the television series. And then I discovered that Pippi was a bit of a bully, and nowhere near as funny as I remembered her to be.

Perhaps that’s how Roald Dahl’s books appear to children now? I can recall how appalled I was, seeing George’s Marvellous Medicine on stage. It really brought home the awfulness of those books. To this day I can’t bear Willy Wonka.

It won’t be long until a whole Harry Potter generation start to forcefeed their children wizards and witches and wands. Those readers are already beginning to pop up as authors (it’s probably quicker to write a book than to give birth to a new reader), having been inspired by Harry and Co.

If you don’t read Dahl now, you are very likely enjoying Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid or Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum. How long until they are the parents’ choice? Thirty years, maybe.

I get the impression that Enid Blyton still works, even without any arm twisting. I expected Daughter to like the Nancy Drew books and bought two with lovely period covers, and they are still sitting on a shelf in pristine condition.

The thing is, Mother-of-witch never suggested books to me. I read all of hers. There weren’t many, and I didn’t own a lot myself, so anything that was available got attention. Hers were mainly what girls had in the 1930s, so neither terribly classic or incredibly modern. They were just books.

Jules Verne, Till jordens medelpunkt

Perhaps if my childhood books had been in a language they could read, Offspring would have foraged and found something to enjoy.

Yeah, that’s probably it. Wrong language. Not wrong books.

At least there were some children’s books

It’s the Guardian top 100 bestselling books of 2012 I’ve got in mind. Maybe I’m wrong to feel pleased there are 23, or 24 if you count The Hobbit, children’s books in the top 100. It’s children from the Hunger Games age group down to the Julia Donaldson age level, with The Wimpy Kid and David Walliams in the middle.

There are rather a lot of Wimpy Kids and David Walliams books on that list, at the expense of more individual fiction. But if the books have been bought, they have most likely been read too, because that’s the kind of books they are. And that has to count as A Good Thing, surely?

The Hunger Games film caused hundreds of thousands of books to be bought, and if the Bookwitch Towers experience is anything to go by, they were definitely read, and very quickly, too. Not by me. The film was enough. But I recognise that fervour, awakened by a cinema visit. I saw Five On a Treasure Island before reading the books. Almost before I could read, but that didn’t stop me. And look where it got me.

War Horse stage play

Even theatre can cause book buying, as evidenced by Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. I would guess the books are bought by adults, but most likely read by children as well. Or was it ‘just’ the film effect again?

War Horse film

Whereas I am – reluctantly – conceding that it might be mainly adults who bought and read John Grisham’s latest Theodore Boone, simply because they are Grisham fans. Or possibly because they didn’t realise it’s a children’s book.

But what of Terry Pratchett’s Dodger? It comes in the top twenty children’s books in the 100 list, but has not made it into the children’s top twenty. Might that be the adult fan reading everything by their favourite author again?

The fact that Jacqueline Wilson is not in the top twenty, is an indication of how well the film industry sells books. (Did I just say that?)

Wimpy Kid film poster

What makes me happy, is that at least a couple of million readers benefitted from the top twenty titles. I hope they will also be reading other books, lower down in the sales league, and that they will continue reading. Always.

Losing yourself in a book

Reviewing Between the Lines a while ago, I was thinking some more about this fantasy idea of getting lost inside a good book. Or a bad book, for that matter.

I mean, I obviously don’t know whether it is really possible. Maybe Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer made it up? But if it is possible, it’s interesting. And what difference would you experience if it’s War and Peace in paperback, totally un-illustrated and just hundreds and hundreds of tightly packed pages of small printed words?

Or even worse, what might happen if you only had an ebook to hand? You go and lose yourself in a story inside an electronic book. There might be pictures, and there will be words. Many or few; it all depends on what the story is.

The thing about ebooks, though, is that they usually contain lots of books. So, maybe you lose your grip on a particularly slippery word, and before you know it, you are somewhere else. Start off inside Five on a Treasure Island (do you get eBlytons?) and you’re having a jolly old time with those gold ingots. But as you descend once more into the cave, you suddenly end up in Kidnapped. Or one of the complete works of Trollope. (Someone close to me went crazy and bought the affordable, complete works of several old literary heavyweights, so it could easily happen.)

I expect untold amounts of damage could be done if you ‘read between the lines’ in an ebook. And I can’t work out if it’d be harder or easier to fall out of one of those stories. An ebook seems more sealed up, doesn’t it? With pages made of paper you stand more chance of dropping out.

And what if the internet book giant recalls you?