Swallows and Amazons is the first in a series of children's books that take place in England's Lake District during the time between the wars.
The Walker children, their mother, and their nurse are on holiday while their father is onboard a British Navy vessel somewhere in Asia. John, Susan, Titty, and Roger have the parents we all wish we had: They let the kids sail to an island in the lake, set up camp, and live there for the entire vacation. As temporary owners of the small sailboat Swallow, the children make it their task to explore and map the world as they see it from the lake. Mother, the local farmers and storekeepers, and the charcoal burners are all natives, and Captain John and his crew get to know the tolerant local community.
All is not tranquil on Wild Cat Island, however. First there is the mysterious behavior of the retired pirate who lives on a houseboat in a nearby bay. Then there is the surprise attack by Nancy and Peggy Blackett, the owners of the ship Amazon. The captains of the two boats must decide whether to be friends or foes and what to do about Captain Flint, the houseboat man.
The Walker and Blackett children are given an amazing amount of freedom and use that gift to its fullest. They are adventuresome, curious, imaginative, and mischievous. Oh to be able to spend weeks on end sailing and camping and exploring. Even though Ransome was writing in the 1930s, the girls and women he created are strong and capable: good swimmers, good sailors, smart, fearless, and reliable. It's no wonder that this series was among my favorite childhood books.
Here is a quote that has stayed with me since I was in fourth grade:
"Her real name isn't Nancy," said Peggy. "Her name is Ruth, but Uncle Jim said that Amazons were ruthless . . . [so] we had to change her name." (p. 119)
The charm of life in a close-knit community and the joys of childhood lived in the outdoors will still appeal to many modern children and their parents. The books are rated for ages nine to twelve, and the author's simple pen-and-ink drawings and maps enhance the text.
I revisited this book via the unabridged audio edition read by Alison Larkin, who did an excellent job rendering the children's voices and emotions. She brought the books alive.
Published by Godine, 1994
Challenges: A-Z Author, Young Adult, 999, Audiobook, 100+, Buy 1 and Read
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