by Arthur Ransome first published 1930
“She had had one idea firm in her head and had held to it when every one thought she was wrong; and now, when everybody knew she had been right, just for a minute or two she did not want to do any talking.”
Imagine reading an exciting children’s book where perhaps many of the terms don’t make any sense, but it doesn’t matter in the least. That’s how I feel reading the Swallows and Amazons. The details of sailing and boats go right over my head, and yet, as I follow the children’s adventures on their sailboats on a lake, I’m right there, even if I don’t know starboard from — what is the opposite? The adventures, and the well developed characters of the children and others is so entrancing, that details don’t really get in the way.
One of the best parts of Swallows and Amazons is watching the children have the freedom to make bad decisions, suffer the consequences, yes with no really disastrous results. There’s all the excitement of the reader thinking, no, don’t try that… and then being on edge as they go for it..whether it is sailing in the dark, or climbing up an unknown path on the island, or staying out through a bad storm. Ransome surely knows just how kids would make their choices, and he’s placed a wonderful mother in the story, who seems to understand how to give the children just the right amount of freedom.
The mother in the story, as well as the author, have another wonderful gift for us. The imagination of the children rules the day. No matter what they come up with, we stay right with their imagination as they go about living out their imaginations. It’s an unusual author who doesn’t need to add fantasy to make a story imaginative.. rather, he calls on the imagination from the children themselves. A wonderful lesson in letting the children lead.
The story is perfectly exciting all the way, (and I even read it out of order, reading Swallowdale before this one), and will hold the attention of the 10-12 year olds. Both boys and girls lead in this equally, so there’s no gender issue. The story is set somewhere around WWI, but there is very little in the book to date it. A worthy children’s book, a good read, and the beginning of a series of six children’s books about terrific kids and their adventures. I put it in the classics simply because it was written pre-1950, and my guess is that it will remain worthy of being called a classic. I also include it as a Waldorf-aligned book mainly because it highlights the beautiful way children can think for themselves and become self-sufficient.