30 March 2009

Review: Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

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
ISBN-13: 9780879235734
Challenges: A-Z Author, Young Adult, 999, Audiobook, 100+, Buy 1 and Read
YTD: 26
Rating: A
Note: If you have reviewed this book, let me know and I'll add a link to your blog.


Book Psmith 3/30/09, 1:00 PM  

This sounds like a good one. I will have to check it out. It would be great for the young reader challenge. Hans Brinker and The Wheel on the School also have the same element of limitless freedom for the children. It amazed me and made me nostalgic for the time when my parents and my grandparents enjoyed the same amount of freedom. The stories my grandfather tells of all the adventures he had as a child sans parents are priceless.

Kim 3/30/09, 2:26 PM  

Ahhh...childhood freedom! What would that be exactly? I also have yearned for a world where I could have given my own children that kind of freedom but that world has not appeared yet. This book has been on my radar for years and years and just have never picked it up. I wanted my sons to read it, but alas, I think we have passed the point of that happening at ages 13 and 16. Both boys are heavily into the fantasy genre so I am really sure they are beyond reading this book. I guess it is up to me to read it! ;)

Jenne 3/30/09, 5:13 PM  

Loved the review! This book is one of my childhood favourites tha I re-read yearly, followed by Swallowdale, Winter Holiday etc.!

I was so disappointed when I found out (at 14 yrs old) that Arthur Ransome had made up the lakes from two in the Lake District. I so wanted to have a sailing holiday there!

Jenners 3/30/09, 7:42 PM  

Wow! I think I would have loved reading this as a girl! It sounds really adventurous and neat. Though Titty seems to me to be an unforunate name ... but that is probably because I am viewing it through modern eyes!

booklineandsinker 3/30/09, 7:52 PM  

i would have loved this one as a kid--we were always up for adventure in my neighborhood--and living on 3 wooded acres made for fabulous summers and campouts. for the longest time i wanted to be one of the boxcar children or live like the kid in 'my side of the mountain.' this book is right up my alley! thanks for the good review of something different. :)

booklineandsinker 3/30/09, 7:52 PM  

i would have loved this one as a kid--we were always up for adventure in my neighborhood--and living on 3 wooded acres made for fabulous summers and campouts. for the longest time i wanted to be one of the boxcar children or live like the kid in 'my side of the mountain.' this book is right up my alley! thanks for the good review of something different. :)

Meghan 3/30/09, 9:50 PM  

I'm just going to echo everyone else in saying that I would have loved this book as a kid. I always enjoyed adventure stories of this general type and even wrote one of my own! I'll have to keep an eye out for it, I've added it to my list. =)

Margot 3/31/09, 1:47 AM  

I'm sorry to say I've never read this book but I'm so glad you have this great memory.

Sandy Nawrot 3/31/09, 5:26 AM  

I love recommendations on kids books...I'm always looking out for a good one to read with my son and daughter. This sounds like a keeper!

Beth F 3/31/09, 7:26 AM  

Sandy: you and your kids would love the series.

But anyone who was outdoorsy or loved to pretend and especially loved to sail would enjoy the time spent with these books.

Jenners: Even my mother, who first read the books in the late 40s when she was teaching school, never got the name Titty. The good news is that the reader gets over that fast and it doesn't distract.

farmlanebooks 3/31/09, 7:51 AM  

I love the quote - and the box it's in!

I've never read this one, but I'll make sure I remember to read it to my boys when they are a bit bigger.

Julie P. 3/31/09, 8:20 AM  

My daughter is in fourth grade right now. I wonder if she'd like these. I'm not familiar with them at all.

bermudaonion 3/31/09, 8:21 AM  

Great review - the quote you chose made me laugh!

Cathy 3/31/09, 12:45 PM  

I'd never heard of this series before. Now I have this one on my PBS wish list. Thanks for the review!

Dorte H 3/31/09, 1:03 PM  

Marvelous quotation!
If I were 30-40 years younger, I would rush out and buy that book :D

Alexa 3/31/09, 4:38 PM  

Oh Swallows and Amazons. I love these books! It's the kind of childhood I'd like my son to have, although I doubt I'll ever let him camp on an Island alone :)

Ms. Yingling 4/1/09, 6:32 AM  

I want to read this one, but I don't know that my students will. Maybe it will be a treat to myself over spring break!

Ladytink_534 4/1/09, 11:36 AM  

I started to read this a couple of years ago, even ILL'd it from another library but never got around to reading it before it was due back :(

postcardsfromwildwood 4/1/09, 4:06 PM  

Thank you for the review of Swallows & Amazons. I've never read it but having seen your review I will. I've enjoyed looking through your blog and will pop back from time to time. I read quite a lot but clearly only a fraction of your regular intake so don't need quite as many recommendations as you can offer!
Thanks again,

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