The Picts and The Martyrs
by Arthur Ransome, published 1943
“Dick was there, of course, but, with his mind on the new boat, or on birds, or on cutting up wood in a scientific way, he did not seem to realize that they were going to sleep in a hut in the wood with nobody in it but themselves, a hut with holes in its roof and no glass in its window.”
Returning to an Arthur Ransome children’s book is like returning to a warm, wonderful, and very exciting friend. There is nothing quite like the books Ransome wrote in the 1930s and ’40s, (including Swallows and Amazons, and Swallowdale, among others.) Each of them carries the same kind of excitement: children out on their own, creating wild adventures in nature, having close calls that are always resolved, and learning absolute self-sufficiency and resilience. There is nothing better. I wish today’s children were able to have these kinds of experiences themselves, but perhaps reading about them in a terrific children’s book is the next best thing.
The wonderful thing about Ransome’s writing is that it is breathtaking in its pace. Page after page, something is happening, something is unfolding. Reading too many chapters at once can almost leave you breathless, as you follow the action from place to place. At the same time, he weaves in history (do you know who the Picts were? I do now…) as well as lovely small character-building lessons. As with his other books, it’s easy to gloss over parts that are either complicated or not your interest, such as the finer details of sailing a boat. The important parts are always easy to follow. The book also makes references to earlier adventures, making it easy to read the books out of sequence. (This is the eleventh in the series.)
This particular book was especially enjoyable as the complications of the plot were worthy of a Shakespearean mix-up, and the setting, a cabin in the woods by the lake, was especially appealing. Any child who loves the outdoors would love this worthy children’s book.